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Mark Lazarowicz: I recognise the difference. In those circumstances, however, I suspect that the costs could be reflected in other ways in the income and expenditure of the particular business, but that would take us in another direction.

My point is that it is easy for people to say that they are in favour of increases in VED on gas-guzzling cars and then to find all sorts of reasons why it does not apply to them or their constituency. We have seen some
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evidence from the Liberal Democrats today that they are moving towards that approach. I had not expected to speak at such length, and I will try to conclude my remarks soon.

Just as motor vehicles raise the issue of fuel duty, the increase in air travel raises the issue of the continual and worrying rise in greenhouse gas emissions and of what measures to implement in response. I would have liked an increase in air passenger duty in the Budget, or some alternative form of taxation, in recognition of the problem caused by the growth in air travel. If we are to have a serious debate, the Opposition parties should make clear whether they are or are not in favour of an increase in air passenger duty at least in line with inflation. The hon. Member for Eastleigh seemed to imply that he was in favour of such an increase, but it was not clear that that was Liberal Democrat policy.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): While many of us may want an increase, or indeed the imposition of tax on aviation fuel, that view would be expressed more credibly by Labour Members if the Government were not expanding the supply of airport space. When the availability of airport space is restricted, the price of using that space goes up and the increase must be passed on to the consumer, but when the space expands, the price of air travel continues to fall.

Mark Lazarowicz: I have made clear my own reservations about the airport policy in so far as it affects my area and others, but I think that it would be wrong to think that the issue could be dealt with through airport policy alone. We must think about the pricing of air travel as well. It is a complex issue, and we are right to try and tackle it at a European and international level, but I think we could consider it here in the United Kingdom as well. I think that it would have been better if the Budget had provided for an index-linked rise in air passenger duty rather than a freeze.

Paul Rowen : Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), our environment spokesman, has made our policy very clear? It was discussed at our conference in Harrogate a few weeks ago. We are in favour of exactly what the hon. Gentleman has proposed.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am glad that we appear to be clear about the fact that that is the Liberal Democrats' policy, although I must say again—without wanting to become involved in the badinage in which some Members wish to engage—that it is a pity that the Liberal Democrat policy in theory is not the same policy that is applied in practice. In Scotland, where the Liberal Democrats are in government, the Liberal Democrat transport Minister is subsidising air travel to many parts of the world. Indeed, he recently introduced an air travel subsidy for, as it happens, the constituency of Orkney and Shetland. First-class as well as economy tickets are being subsidised. As I have said, it is all very well to have a policy in theory, but in the case of the Liberal Democrats we sometimes do not see the same policy in practice.

We should think about what will happen if we are to be able to secure enough broad consensus and political space to allow Governments to take steps such as
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increasing air passenger duty. We all know what might well happen if there were a major increase: there would be all sorts of tabloid campaigns about its affecting people's ability to go on holiday, and so forth. That is why it is fair for me to ask the Opposition parties to be clear about their policy. We seem to have received a response from the Liberal Democrats, but it would be interesting to know whether the Conservatives are in favour of at least the index-linking of air passenger duty. The fact that none of them are choosing to intervene may speak for itself.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I do not believe that working families would want their opportunities to travel abroad for holidays to be affected in any way. Does my hon. Friend agree, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a rather inexpensive holiday abroad and flights being offered at 99p? That is sheer abuse, and we must try to control it as best we can.

Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed we must.

Let me summarise the main points that I have tried to make in a speech that became longer than it was intended to be. I think that the Budget set out—as we apparently say nowadays—a clear direction of travel in terms of the priority given to tackling climate change and environmental policy, and I welcome that. I believe that we need to go further with fuel duty not only on cars and other such vehicles, but on aviation. I challenge the Opposition parties to make it clear that they are prepared to go in that direction and to provide the political space for the Government to implement such measures.

I say again to the Conservatives that being prepared at least to reconsider their position on the climate change levy would be much greater evidence of their commitment to tackling climate change.

This is a good Budget and I welcome its commitment to tackling climate change. I particularly welcome the extra funding given to microgeneration, a subject with which my private Member's Bill deals. Indeed, I should have declared earlier an interest in that regard, which is listed in the Register of Members' Interests. That Bill is an example of how we can make progress on such issues through broad, cross-party support. The public are genuinely interested in taking steps in their own homes and communities to respond to the challenge presented by climate change. I welcome the Government's decision to put climate change and environmental issues at the heart of the Budget, and in doing so they are responding to growing public concern about such issues.

3.41 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I wish that I could welcome the Budget in the same way as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), but sadly, I cannot. Looking back at the 10 Budgets presented by this Chancellor of the Exchequer, the step on which to congratulate him is his granting independence to the Bank of England. Indeed, it is a pleasure to have here today the hon. Member for Normanton (Ed Balls), who is viewed by many as the true architect of that policy. As with quite a few other polices, it showed that after 18 years of Labour refusing
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to accept the reforms introduced, quite properly, by the previous Conservative Government, young new Labour figures such as the hon. Gentleman had at last grasped the importance of stability and a proper, market-based economy, and that they had accepted the settlement left behind by that Government.

If this House is to contribute properly, be it on the environment or the economy, we should all try to deal with the facts as they are, instead of trying to spin every single fact purely for our own party political purposes. Unfortunately, such spinning is a Labour tendency, and I suppose that after three consecutive election victories, Labour Members may feel a bit like the Leeds United of the 1970s, who, by kicking their way to the first division title, came to think that that was a fine way to play the beautiful game. Well, in this political game, twisting the truth is not the right way to go.

The acceptance that I and other Conservatives seek is acceptance that our economy's stability and growth started many years before the current Chancellor took office, and that the previous, Conservative Government turned this country from a basket-case in 1979—bankrupted by the socialism that is still expressed by interesting specimens on the Labour Back Benches—into the most powerful economy in Europe in 1997. If Labour Members would accept that, we could move on to a more constructive debate on the way forward.

In considering what happened since Labour inherited the strongest economy in Europe, we should take note of the booklet produced as part of the Budget papers, entitled "Productivity in the UK 6: Progress and new evidence". It says that

The hon. Member for Normanton nods; he may even have been the author of those words. It continues:

we are definitely in the hon. Gentleman's territory there—

That is the Government's policy on productivity, so let us look at the record.

From listening to Labour Members, one would think that the Government had taken triumphant steps forward on productivity, which is, they say, the key determinant of the future prosperity of this nation, but they have not. In Labour's first term, productivity growth was 2.1 per cent. In Labour's second term, it dropped to 1.3 per cent., and in Labour's third term so far there has been a 0.4 per cent. increase in productivity. The key determinant of the future strength and prosperity of this nation has been systematically undermined term by term by this Government. In comparison, the last five years of the Conservative Government, from 1992 to 1997, saw productivity growth of 2.6 per cent.

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