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Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I welcome many of the things that the Chancellor has said today, especially about pensions. I am sure that pensioners will be well pleased with what they have heard. Of course, pensions are a continuing problem, and I am glad that the Chancellor has gazed into the future.

People in Northern Ireland are a bit aggrieved with the Chancellor. They feel that in matters of consultation, other parts of this United Kingdom have been listened to, while our farming community and the freight men did not get direct access to him.

The right hon. Gentleman has been on wheels. Northern Ireland is not so very far from his own country--it is just 20 miles over the sea, and there is a very good boat service, as he knows. As he carries out further consultations, will he--even if he cannot come himself--meet a deputation of farmers and freight men? The Chancellor talked about a virtuous circle. The farming community and the freight men in Northern Ireland are in a vicious circle.

Northern Ireland is the only part of this United Kingdom that has a land border with another country in the European Union. The number of men and women who have lost jobs on the border because of the price of petrol is fantastic. All one sees driving along the border is closed filling stations. Of course, the farming community--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he must understand that other hon. Members wish to speak. I think that the Chancellor has enough to work on.

Rev. Ian Paisley: May I just say in closing, Mr. Speaker, that the farming community and the freight men need the Chancellor's attention?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting the case for the farmers and the haulage industry. The pre-Budget consultation will include visits to every part of the United Kingdom. Ministers will be visiting Northern Ireland and will listen to the concerns of farmers and hauliers. My good friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already invited me to come across to Northern Ireland to talk about some of those matters.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I thank the Chancellor for the equivalent of a cut of 4p per litre of fuel for drivers of smaller cars, such as myself, through the car tax discount of £55.

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On pensions, is not the shadow Chancellor correct on one point, but one point only? Pensioners will not forget what the Government have done, because the Government have increased their incomes, particularly for the poorest and those with modest occupational pensions and savings.

Many pensioners in my constituency have asked me about the winter fuel allowance of £200. Can my right hon. Friend let them know the latest date by which pensioners in Tower Hamlets and across the country will have that cheque for £200 in their pockets?

Mr. Brown: The cheques will start going out on Monday. The intention is that they will be paid over November and reach people before Christmas. That is what we are trying to achieve.

On the general policy on pensions, I should have thought that there would have been all-party support for the view that, first, we should tackle pensioner poverty. By raising the minimum income guarantee, we are taking hundreds of thousands of pensioners out of poverty. Just as we want to make child poverty a thing of the past, we want to make pensioner poverty a thing of the past. That is possible through the actions that we take.

I recognise, however--and this is the second stage of our reforms--that we must help people who have saved all their lives and who get nothing from the system. It is all very well the shadow Chancellor criticising measures that he says are income related. Those are measures that encourage and reward saving--they tell people who have saved all their lives that we will do more to help them.

When people consider the proposals and look at the scale of the payments that can now be made, they will realise that the pensioner credit is a means by which we can give justice to middle and lower income pensioners and at the same time tackle the problem of pensioner poverty.

I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents will get the cheques that will start to go out from Monday. Equally, I hope that they will support our new pension reform proposals.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk): Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer explain why he has so little trust in pensioners to spend their own money? Why cannot the winter fuel allowance, the Christmas bonus and the free television licence fee be incorporated into the basic state pension?

Mr. Brown: First, the £200 winter allowance, which I assume that the Conservative party would not pay--[Interruption.] That is an interesting revelation. We have now had an admission that, even this year, the Conservative party would not pay the winter fuel allowance--even before the Conservatives get into power, they say that they would not pay it this year. I am sorry that attendance in the Chamber is low at the moment, but hon. Members here will note, as will everyone throughout the country in the next few days, that the Conservatives would not even pay this year's £200 winter allowance.

As for telling pensioners how to spend their money, we are giving pensioners that money to spend. The difference between the two parties is that the Conservatives would not even give pensioners the money.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, in particular on what he

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intends to do about vehicle excise duty. The rural poor, who drive on average perhaps 8,000 miles a year, will benefit far more from a £55 cut in that duty than they would have benefited if he had simply cut the price of petrol. We are doing the right thing--enabling people to pay as they go when they drive. We are cutting the cost to drivers of getting on the road. That will help the poorest people and it will allow the rural poor in particular to drive as they need to do. Many of them have limited needs, which we should not exaggerate--they need their cars, but not for long journeys, and not on the scale that they would need them if petrol tax were cut as dramatically as some people have advocated, which the country could not have afforded and which would have denied money for schools, pensioners and other things.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and has been taking evidence on the matter. I know how vigilant he is when he represents the needs of his rural as well as his urban constituents. The important point is that for the past 20 years those in rural areas have been calling for tax on the ownership of a car to be less and saying that people should not have to pay such a high licence fee. Now that the new lower fee has been extended to cover vehicles up the cc scale to 1500 cc people have a real choice as to whether to pay the lower fee.

Our policy was based, first, on getting rid of the deficit, secondly, on ending the under-investment in transport and, thirdly, on doing nothing to hurt stability. Our fourth and fifth objectives were to meet the environmental needs that we have set down and to tax ownership less and treat motorists more fairly. Taken as a whole, the measures today achieve those aims.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): The Chancellor will no doubt be delighted to hear that I agree with his strictures on spending temporary surpluses as though they were permanent features. I welcome the fact that he is spending at least part of the temporary surplus on repaying public debt and I hope that he will continue with that course until the public deficit is eventually eliminated. Does he agree that the fatal flaw of the Conservative party when in government was not that it undertook that course of action but that it entered the exchange rate mechanism? Those of us who objected to that policy object equally to any possibility of our entering the single currency.

That said, the measures that the Chancellor announced on the cost of fuel will go nowhere near meeting the real problems alluded to by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in respect of the border with the Irish Republic, where filling stations and many other businesses have suffered grievously. Much more will have to be done. Will the Chancellor give an undertaking that he will pay serious attention to that problem, and that the bill imposed on foreign lorries will also apply to hauliers from the Irish Republic?

Mr. Brown: We continue to investigate cross-border flows of petrol and diesel. Customs and Excise has been concerned about that and we shall keep it under review.

I shall not be drawn into a debate on the single currency, but simply repeat that our policy is--as it has always been--that in principle we see benefits in the single currency; in practice, the tests that we have set must be met.

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As for the Conservatives learning the lessons of the past, one sees total opportunism from them; every time we make a spending announcement, they say that it will cause a recession, but when it fails to do so, they ask--on the day before the announcement--for huge sums of money to be spent. They have shown complete opportunism in this effort too. Neither Front-Bench nor Back-Bench Conservative Members have a clue as to what the Conservative policy or attitude is. They were certainly no wiser after hearing the shadow Chancellor.


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