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Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Yesterday's announcement on carbon capture and the memorandum of understanding with the Norwegian Government were very welcome. Do the Government have any estimate of the time scale for large-scale carbon capture and for carbon to be pumped into the North sea, starting with the emissions from power stations?

Mr. Darling: We want to get on with that as quickly as possible, and we will publish proposals. As the hon. Gentleman knows, quite a lot of work has been done—for example, at Peterhead power station—to see how carbon can be captured and stored under the North sea. We want to try to bring forward practical measures that will encourage that. I cannot give him a precise time scale, but everybody wants to press on as soon as we possibly can.

Nobody can be in any doubt that the problem of greenhouse gases is growing. The difference between us and previous Governments is that we are doing something about it by meeting our Kyoto obligations and making sure that we meet other obligations as well. To do that means that we have to support measures such as the climate change levy.

It is clear from the contribution of the right hon. Member for West Dorset, and from the little that was said by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, that the Conservative party hopes that if it says very little, people will not notice what it is up to. The right hon. Member for West Dorset has gone further today, and confirmed what we always thought about where the Conservatives
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instincts lie. They are trying to argue that the Government have a very limited role, and cannot make a difference to the lives of people in this country. They have tied themselves to a fiscal rule that is absolute nonsense in economic terms.

In contrast, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday set out a clear direction for this country for the future. In particular, he showed how we can, from a position of strength, invest in education, continue to put money into other public services and make a real difference to the future prospects of this country. This country has been transformed over the past few years. We have built a position of strength that would have been undreamt of 10 years ago when the Conservative party was in power. For those reasons this Budget should be commended, and we should vote for it next Tuesday evening.

2.5 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I cannot recall a time in politics—certainly in my lifetime—when the Government have given us so much to talk about, but the official Opposition have had so little to say about it. The performance of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) yesterday and of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) today has been an affront to the House. They had the opportunity to hold the Government to account; they had the opportunity to—

Mr. Graham Stuart: Why is the hon. Gentleman attacking us?

Mr. Carmichael: Because you have said absolutely nothing and you are not fulfilling—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant to refer to the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Carmichael: Nothing could be further from my mind, Madam Deputy Speaker. The official Opposition have not done their job and they are letting down the people who vote for them and who send them here.

Managing expectations is one of the most important aspects of politics, and it is something that the Secretary of State for Transport normally does exceptionally well. When I saw that the first full day of debate on the Budget was to be about transport, my expectations were raised. I really thought that we would hear a great deal in the Budget about transport, because many transport issues tick many of the boxes that seem to be important to the Chancellor. Transport can be a tool of economic development, it can be a tool for environmental improvement and it can be a tool for social inclusion. Those are all things that the Chancellor says motivate him and underpin his policies to date. However, there was virtually nothing about transport in yesterday's speech.

Last week, the Secretary of State gave us a tremendous speech about the future of the rail network. We were told about a new generation of high-speed trains; we were told about the possibility of double-
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decker trains; and we were told that we were going to have transport of which we could be proud. He also offered some sort of vision of a 20 to 30-year strategy. For an issue such as transport, that is exactly the right approach. We need to have more long-term thinking and more long-term strategic thinking. The absence of such long-term strategic thinking has caused many of the difficulties with the transport infrastructure that we have today.

Why did the Chancellor not follow that up yesterday? Why was there nothing about the railways in the Budget? We were told that it was going to be a green Budget, and there is an obvious link between transport and the reduction of CO 2 emissions. I welcome the new bandings for vehicle excise duty. They have the potential to make significant changes and to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly vehicles and to discourage the use of the more dangerous and damaging ones. However, the manner in which the bandings have been introduced has been timid in the extreme. It is mere tokenism.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) pointed out yesterday, the extra cost of vehicle excise duty for gas guzzlers will be roughly equivalent to the cost of filling half a tank of petrol for one of them. There is therefore no real disincentive for the so-called Chelsea tractors. Those who can afford such vehicles will not be put off from buying or using them by an increase in vehicle excise duty of that scale. However, the use of larger 4x4 vehicles is important for many people in constituencies such as mine and in other rural and remote communities. Such people—and farmers, in particular—operate businesses that work on very tight margins. The extra cost will make a difference to them, but no protection will be given to them.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) seemed to give the impression in his comments in the House that the increase in vehicle excise duty was not high enough. The hon. Gentleman, however, seems to be suggesting that it is too high. Can the Liberal Democrats be clear about what their policy is?

Mr. Carmichael: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen a wee bit more carefully from now on. I was saying that some meaningful protection was needed for those who will be hit hardest—[Interruption.] I do not know whether a Conservative Member wishes to intervene. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Does the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) wish to make a comment?

Gregory Barker: What protection does the hon. Gentleman suggest? Can he explain?

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman has finally got to his feet and had the courtesy to ask the question properly. I can tell him that there is an opportunity, within the regulatory framework operated by the European Union, for derogations from vehicle excise duty for remote and peripheral communities. Spain,
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Portugal and Greece have provided that for many years. We urged his party to do that when it was in government for many years, but it always refused to do so. We have always been told that it could not be done, but we found out recently that France has started doing it. That is the sort of protection that can be given.

Gregory Barker: So, farmers who have large 4x4s in the hon. Gentleman's constituency will get a subsidy, but farmers in my constituency, only 50 miles from London, will be penalised like the Chelsea tractors. Do I understand him rightly?

Mr. Carmichael: I shall not dwell on this point—the hon. Gentleman asked for one example. He is well aware that it is possible to put in place protection for people for whom it will make a difference. One means of doing that is on the basis of geography, as I explained. It is also possible that rebates can be offered through VAT or the tax system; that is not beyond the wit of man. My point—and he was one of those who was chuntering behind me earlier, complaining that I was not being hard enough on the Government—is that the Government have made no attempt to give us any of those protections. I find it difficult to understand the insistence that one size will fit all and be appropriate for all parts of the country.

Mark Lazarowicz rose—

Mr. Carmichael: I want to make some progress.

In the long term, we should be dealing not with vehicle excise or fuel duty, but with a proper system of national road pricing. The Secretary of State has made encouraging noises about that in the past but, again, we heard nothing about it yesterday. It is not as though we are short of transport projects needing support. In Greater Manchester, the Government still fail to demonstrate adequate commitment to the Metrolink expansion. Light rail schemes in Leeds, Liverpool and Portsmouth have all been cancelled. The Government guidelines on light rail procurement, which we were promised last December, have still not been published.

When it comes to new roads, however, it seems that money is no object. The Secretary of State will be aware that the National Audit Office is currently investigating how the Government's new road building programme seems to be spiralling out of control. The costs have gone from £3.5 billion to £5 billion. Where is the prudence there?

Money does not seem to be so readily available for road maintenance. Tomorrow, the annual local authority road maintenance report will be published. I will not pre-empt that, but it is fair to anticipate that it will be bleak. Much of England's road network is potholed and crumbling, which is dangerous for cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Filling in small potholes is not as sexy as building new roads—it does not provide the same opportunities to cut ribbons at openings—but it is necessary and important.

On the question of bus transport, I want to give a warm and genuine welcome to the proposals for free bus travel for pensioners, which will be introduced as a nationwide scheme in 2008. I commend the Secretary of
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State and the Chancellor for having at last caught up with their colleagues in Scotland and Wales in the implementation of a national scheme.

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