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Angela Eagle: The Budget forecasts deal with that issue. I refer the hon. Lady to the appropriate pages of the Red Book. The point of the sustainable investment
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rule is to decouple much-needed investment in infrastructure from the ups and downs of the economic cycle.

Mr. Cox: Will the Exchequer Secretary give way on that point?

Angela Eagle: No, let me finish.

When we came into government, we inherited a wrecked public infrastructure, in which there had at points been lows of 0.6 per cent. of GDP of investment. We have since had 10 years of stable public investment and have got that figure up to 2 per cent. That is why, when I walk past schools and hospitals in my constituency, they are no longer falling down; they are in new buildings of which we can all be proud. It is because of the sustainable investment rule, which was created to ensure that we can invest in our public infrastructure as we need to, that we have enjoyed the success that I am talking about.

Bob Russell: Has the Minister noticed, while on her walkabouts, that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened under 10 years of new Labour, that child poverty has increased, and that social housing is the worst it has been in about 20 years?

Angela Eagle: I notice with great pride that this Government have ended the connection between age and poverty for the first time ever. There is now no longer a correlation between a person’s age and the likelihood of their living in poverty. We have taken 2 million pensioners out of poverty, and 600,000 children out of relative poverty. This Budget will take us further forward.

In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor had to consider what action to take in the short term to assist with the challenges that we are facing due to global conditions. He also needed to look ahead. Perhaps the most serious and demanding issue facing us is the question of how to tackle catastrophic climate change. We are in the forefront of the efforts to meet what Lord Stern has referred to as the “greatest market failure” the world has ever seen. Internationally, we are leading action aiming for a post-Kyoto agreement next year in Copenhagen.

Domestically, too, we are creating a robust new framework to meet the challenge. The Climate Change Bill will make us the first country in the world to legislate for carbon budgets, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last week that the first carbon budgets would be delivered alongside next year’s Budget. The Energy Bill and the Planning Bill will enable us to begin the work of decarbonising our own economy and ensuring that we are able to meet the extremely challenging targets for renewable energy generation that we have been set by the European Union.

We also have to price carbon and create scarcity by capping emissions so that we can trade them. This will allow market mechanisms to help us to drive the innovation and technical development that we need to continue economic development for all the people in the world, without destroying the eco-systems on which all life on earth depends. The European Union emissions trading system is the most advanced in the world, and London
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is at the centre of the rapidly expanding carbon market. The Budget maintains our engagement and ensures that, via the clean development mechanism, developing countries can rely on the cleanest technology while harmful emissions are minimised.

At home, fuel duty will increase, albeit later than originally planned, in recognition of the short-term economic conditions in the oil market. The restructuring of vehicle excise duty will incentivise motorists to buy more fuel-efficient cars and manufacturers to drive engine technology in even cleaner directions.

Mr. Redwood: I do not know whether the Minister is going to respond to the debate, but it would be useful to have an answer to the points that I made about the need to strengthen the Bank of England’s monetary authority in order to avoid future problems.

Angelal Eagle: The hon. Gentleman—[Hon. Members: “Right honourable.”] The right hon. Gentleman—my apologies—made an interesting speech commenting on some of the differences between the way in which the American authorities are dealing with the issue of Bear Stearns and the way in which Northern Rock was dealt with here. He will be aware, as will all hon. Members, that a consultation document on the future structure of the tripartite arrangement was issued on 30 January, and I hope that he will respond to it. He will also know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been dealing with his counterparts in the EU and the G7 to determine what lessons need to be learned from the new threats and issues that global financial markets face as a result of the huge increase in globally mobile capital, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech. There are lessons for everybody to learn, but we know that the problems in the global markets cannot be solved in the UK alone. They have to be solved by international co-operation and agreement.

As I said, fuel duty will increase, but the restructuring of vehicle excise duty will incentivise motorists to buy more fuel-efficient cars and manufacturers to drive engine technology in even cleaner directions. Increases in aviation duty will further price in the environmental cost of flying, as well as contributing to the funding of our public services.

What is the Conservative party saying on the environment? Conservative Members always assert that people should vote blue to go green. In his contribution to the Budget debate last Thursday, the shadow Chancellor berated the Government for changing vehicle excise duty rates at all to incorporate environmental signals, arguing that motorists were being unfairly hit—and we have heard a lot more of that kind of attitude tonight. The shadow Chancellor also argued that all green tax revenues should be used to cut taxes elsewhere. Again, we have heard plenty more comments about that in tonight’s debate. Yet this weekend, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), the shadow Chief Secretary, was pronouncing that there should be no new tax cuts during the first term of any future Tory Government. That must mean that there will be no green taxes either, so what does that say about voting blue to go green?

What about aviation? As we recognise its contribution to the UK economy, the Government support the expansion of Heathrow, subject to the outcome of the current
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consultation, but what about the Conservative party? In his policy commission report on economic competitiveness, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) pronounced that the Tory party was in favour of airport expansion. At the very same time, however, in his policy commission report on the environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pronounced the Tory party against future airport expansion. Which is it? To clarify that embarrassing policy model, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) declared himself in favour of airport expansion on Channel 4 news, while his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) pronounced himself against it in a letter to The Times.

Justine Greening rose—

Angela Eagle: A pattern seems to be emerging from these facts. The Conservative party hopes that nice new eco-friendly logos and well publicised husky rides will be enough to give the impression that it has coherent policies on the environment. I have listened to hours of debate tonight and I have not heard a single policy idea from the Conservatives.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: Will the Minister give way?

Angela Eagle: If I am going to get a policy idea, I will give way.

Mr. Ainsworth: Let me make a further attempt to get the answer to a very simple question. How much carbon will be reduced as a result of the measures introduced by last week’s Budget?

Angela Eagle: I am disappointed, as I thought we were going to hear the Conservative Front-Bench position on airport expansion, but there we are. It serves me right for thinking that there might be an answer to that question.

Justine Greening rose—

Angela Eagle: Perhaps we are still going to get an answer!

Justine Greening: I assume that the Minister is aware that her colleague, the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, the hon. Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), has come out against Stansted expansion, but may I ask her to clarify what she believes the calculation of CO2 emissions from airport expansions should be? Should it include all flights generated by the extra capacity, for example?

Angela Eagle: We still have no answer, to whether Conservative Front Benchers are in favour or against airport expansion at Heathrow. Individual MPs may have particular views, but we are talking about Conservative Front Benchers here. Their environment people go off and tell everyone how they are against airport expansion, while their economic people go off and say that they are in favour of it. They hope that no one will notice the inconsistency. They tell people what they think they want to hear in order to be popular, in
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the hope that those people will not actually talk to each other, compare notes and realise that Conservative Front-Bench policy is a complete mess.

The hon. Member for East Surrey mentioned green ISAs in passing during a speech that seemed to declare a policy-free zone for most of the time. How much is that policy going to cost? How much will it cost in higher rate tax relief to have extra green ISAs? How much will it cost in total tax relief? Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, answer was there none.

The hon. Member for East Surrey talked about the purchasing of what he called “foreign indulgences”, by which he meant that the UK should somehow not be allowed to purchase emissions from abroad to meet any post-Kyoto targets. Is he against carbon trading? Does he believe that, somehow, 1 tonne of carbon abated over London is worth more than 1 tonne of carbon abated over India? As we are moving towards a lower-carbon economy and battling the threat of climate change, does he feel that that is best done by not allowing any trading between the advanced economies and the economies of the developing world? If people believe that, we will never succeed in the battle that we must have against the threat of catastrophic climate change.

Labour Members believe that social justice and economic success go arm in arm. The Budget allows us to continue to invest in our public services. Investment here has trebled as a share of national income since 1997. We have replaced the shabby and dilapidated infrastructure that we inherited from the Conservative party with one that we can all be proud of in the public service. We continue to invest in our education system and the training of our work force so that we can compete effectively in the developing global economy and ensure that no child is left behind and every adult can make the most of their talent.

Even in these difficult times, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been able to find money to make further advances in the battle to eradicate child poverty. The Budget will help to lift a further 250,000 children out of poverty and the spending review will continue the funding of Sure Start children’s centres, which are transforming the life chances of a generation of less-advantaged kids. What a contrast with the Conservative party, which is still intent on slamming shut the door of opportunity by destroying Sure Start.

My right hon. Friend was also able to consolidate the gains that pensioners have made under Labour. For the first time in our history, the Government have broken the link between poverty and old age, getting 2 million pensioners out of poverty, and 9 million households will benefit from the additional payment of £50 for the over-60s and £100 for the over-80s this winter. From April, all bus travel will be free for pensioners.

This Budget will steer us through uncertain times and equip our country for the challenges ahead. I commend it to the House.

Debate adjourned.— [Mr. David.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Post Office Closures (Cumbria)

9.32 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I present to the House a petition on post office closures in Cumbria.

The petitioners declare:


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Wirral Hospital NHS Trust

9.33 pm

Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I present this petition on behalf of 1,541 signatories, who are seriously concerned about dermatology care provision in Wirral, South with regard to it being delivered by GPs rather than a dermatology department, and, for example, the detrimental effect on research and development.

The prayer of the petitioners is as follows:


17 Mar 2008 : Column 719

Winter Fuel Payments

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. David.]

9.35 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the winter fuel allowance, especially at such an appropriate time, given that the Government set out their policy on it in last week’s Budget. As we have extra time, I am happy for my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) to take part in the debate. The winter fuel allowance administration centre is in his constituency.

Context is all-important when discussing the payment. Account must be taken of factors such as energy prices, inflation and the history of the allowance, and some of the criticisms of last week’s Budget show a lack of appreciation of that. As I am sure my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will emphasise, there would be no winter fuel allowance if it had not been introduced by the Labour Government in 1997. When it was introduced it was £20, but from next winter the basic rate will be £250 and the higher rate will be up to £400. In the light of that, some criticisms that I have read are reminiscent of the People’s Front of Judea—or should I say the Judean People’s Front?—wondering what the Romans, or in this case the Government, have ever done for us.

It is important to recognise the Government’s efforts to tackle fuel poverty. I welcome the recent increases in the winter fuel allowance. The Opposition talk about a revenue-neutral Budget—incidentally, when that is coupled with deterrent taxation, it inevitably means cuts to services—and the shadow Chancellor will not commit to even a one-off increase in the winter fuel allowance, so I know that people in my constituency are far better off under this Labour Government.

The payment operates against the backdrop of the cost of energy. It is interesting to note that this year’s increases have taken prices in real terms to the levels of the 1980s. There was no hint of assistance at that time from the incumbent Conservatives, which was no doubt one reason why 6.5 million households were in fuel poverty when Labour came to power in 1997. Furthermore, that situation had come about after a fall in energy prices that was more than three times the size of the reduction between 1997 and 2004. In the light of that, the Opposition’s claim that progress on eliminating fuel poverty has been down to even cheaper prices beggars belief. In Scotland, the Scottish National party is failing vulnerable groups, such as disabled children, and, with its planning policy it is tying Scotland’s future to the fluctuation of carbon prices, so my comments on the winter fuel allowance are made in recognition of the fact that the Government have done more than any other party on this front.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: No, I will not. I am sorry.

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