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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): During the general election campaign, quite a few senior citizens in Shrewsbury told me that they were tempted to vote Conservative but would actually vote Labour because of the £200 grant that they would receive towards their council tax. They were under the impression that the Labour Government would help them with council tax and they were grateful.
It now transpires that the £200 grant will be taken away. In Shrewsbury, council tax is due to rise by about 4 per cent. this year, which will add £50 to the bill for an average band D property, so senior citizens in Shrewsbury will have to find an extra £250 towards their council tax bills compared to last year. That is a disgrace. How does the Chancellor expect senior citizens in Shrewsbury miraculously to find an extra £250?
The Chancellor said a great deal about how he will help with concessionary travel, but Shrewsbury council officers say that the Government are not giving them enough money to provide itthere will be a shortfall of at least £200,000. That will have to come from the local council, which will have to raise taxes to meet it. On the one hand the Government take great credit for providing incentives, yet on the other, they shove the responsibility and cost of providing the services on to local authorities.
I feel passionately about the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, which I have described in the past as my beloved hospital. It is £30 million in debt, with a strong possibility of 300 job cuts there and at neighbouring Telford hospital in the coming year. I find that absolutely petrifying, as do my constituents. There are also threats to services.
There was nothing about health in the Budget and the Chancellor has let the problem of NHS deficits go to the wall. He does not seem to want to take responsibility for them. In March 2005, when I was a Conservative parliamentary candidate, a delegation from the hospital visited me. It included senior consultants, doctors and medical practitioners, who told me, "We are extremely concerned about the forthcoming financial deficits, but we are not allowed to raise our concerns publicly. We have been told that in the run-up to a general election we are to keep our mouths shut."
We managed to highlight the problem in the local papers in March 2005, but a year later nothing has been done to address it. I am about to say something controversialnobody has said this so far: we are all passionate about our country and we all want our Olympic contestants to do extremely well in the games, but when the Royal Shrewsbury hospital is £30 million in debt, my doctors and nurses face the sack and we have a crisis in the national health service, the Chancellor should not be giving £200 million to the Olympic team. Controversial. But that is how passionately I feel about the Royal Shrewsbury hospital.
My second point is about carbon dioxide emissions. I am a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is looking into our obligations on CO 2 emissions. The Chancellor has imposed a tax on 4x4 vehicles and the Lib Dems have repeatedly campaigned about them, saying that they will tax 4x4s until the pips squeak. They fail to realise that many people in rural constituencies, living in villages such as Cardington, which is perched on top of a large hill, or running farms, need a 4x4 to get around.
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So, the Chancellor is penalising hard-working farmers and families who live in rural areas. By imposing the tax, he is certainly not going to stop super-rich people in Westminster from buying those large vehicles. Why is he using a blatant tool such as this to punish people who live in rural communities?
Martin Horwood : I note that the hon. Gentleman was casting some aspersions about the commitment of the Liberal Democrats to rural areas. Does he agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) when he said:
"The restructuring of vehicle excise duty is welcome but will not go far enough . . . The cost for gas guzzlers will be less than one full tank of petrol and brings with it no protection for the small number in rural areas who have a genuine need for four-wheel drive vehicles"?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about the moves that the Government are making to reduce CO 2 emissions and meet our Kyoto targets. As he knows and as the Prime Minister said on Australian television today, Great Britain accounts for only 2 per cent. of CO 2 emissions. I would have been far more impressed with the Chancellor if he had managed to bring to the House an agreement with the Chinese Finance Minister, Mr. Jin Renqing, and if he could convince him to take the matter seriously and to reduce China's CO 2 emissions. If the Chancellor could present the House with a treaty that the Chinese had signed to reduce CO 2 emissions, that would impress me. He is doing very little to make the Chinese more obliging on this matter.
There was no help for public sector workers. As has been mentioned already, today we have had the largest strike since 1926. Many public sector workers in Shrewsbury are striking today and feel very concerned about the fact that their pensions are going to be changed. They believe that some of the things that are happening in relation to the pension changes are contrary to the law of the land. I am sure that those things will be tested through the courts. What a shame that that the Chancellor did absolutely nothing in the Budget to help those people. I recently saw a delegation of such people in Shrewsbury. Some of them are strong Labour voters, but they informed me that they will never vote Labour again, which greatly encouraged me.
I do not think that farmers have been mentioned today, but, as I represent an agricultural constituency, I wanted to raise the issue. In particular, I want to talk about dairy farmers. I am so concerned about dairy
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farmers that I am setting up an all-party group on the issue. Some 70 Members have joined from all sections of the House. I am glad that the Chancellor has just entered the Chamber. What a shame that he failed to say a single thing about our farmers and the crisis that British agriculture is facing. He is so obsessed with Labour strongholds that he fails to remember the crisis of our rural community. There was not a single extra penny for that, in a week when there have been calls for the resignation of Lord Bach, who has appallingly mismanaged the single farm payments scheme, which has had appalling ramifications for Shropshire and Shrewsbury dairy farmers. In fact, I know of only one farmer who has received his single farm payment so far. We were promised that the bulk of our farmers would receive their payments by the end of March. It is now the end of March and next to none of them have received their payments. Before the Chancellor leaves the Chamber, I hope that he takes on board my strong concern[Interruption.] No, he is not taking it on board; he is leavingas usual. But I hope that, in the future, he does take on board the concerns of Shrewsbury dairy farmers.
Lastly, I will talk about something close to my heart. Today, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the provision of money to senior citizens who are in care homes or nursing homes. Unfortunately, not a single extra Member of Parliament attended my debate, which I was very disappointed about. However, the issue is huge and affects a lot of people in Shrewsbury. I have many people coming to see me who have had to sell their parents' home to pay for long-term care for them. I know that my generation will not be able to rely on the state to provide such care, which is why we will have to take out insurance policies to look after our parents, but members of this generation believe that it is the responsibility of the national health service and the state to provide long-term care in nursing homes. So I am very regretful[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) is making hand movements at me. I am not quite sure what he is trying to say.
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