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The responsibility to protect was raised by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South in particular.
There is no doubt that the Burmese Government have a responsibility to act now to help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Burmas people who are suffering after the cyclone. As we have said, we rule nothing out. We will continue to argue vigorously in New York for UN Security Council engagement.
Let me be clear why we tabled our amendment. It focuses on what we are seeking to achieve:
to secure access and ensure aid is delivered to those in need.
That is why the amendment should be supported, and I ask the Opposition to consider the matter carefully. The motion risks suggesting that the UK will pursue the responsibility to protect above all else, rather than our actual focus, which is on any means that will secure the outcome that we all seek.
Unfortunately, the situation for Burma remains extremely grave. A great deal is being done by international organisations, our ambassador on the ground, the Department for International Development and non-governmental organisations, and we must all place on record our thanks to them. However, until there is a response from regional actors and ASEAN putting pressure on the regime, we will not get the outcome that we want to see.
There has been a great deal of agreement in this debate; everybody wants to see the Burmese Government open up their country so that help for the people who desperately need it most can get through. I ask hon. Members to support our amendment.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
Madam Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House notes with horror the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis upon the people of Burma; recognises the vast scale of humanitarian assistance needed urgently to prevent further loss of life; is appalled at the unacceptably slow pace at which the Burmese authorities have so far allowed in international expertise for the relief effort, and at their lack of capacity to distribute aid to the affected areas; calls upon the Burmese authorities to allow immediate and unfettered access for both the delivery of aid and for its distribution inside Burma; strongly welcomes the UK Governments initial £5 million pledge to the relief effort for emergency items; strongly supports the UK
Governments exchanges with key international partners in order to bring about a concerted international effort for access for humanitarian assistance; in this regard, welcomes the visit to countries in the region by Ministers from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; urges countries in the region to increase their efforts to persuade the Burmese authorities to allow in unfettered international assistance and to ramp up the delivery of aid; and strongly supports continued efforts of the United Nations to secure access and ensure aid is delivered to those in need.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern the increases in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) imposed in the Budget; notes that between 2006 and 2010 revenues from graduated VED will have more than doubled; observes that the majority of motorists who currently pay graduated VED will now pay more; deplores the Governments decision to abolish the exemption from higher graduated VED rates for cars that emit more than 186g of carbon dioxide per kilometre and were registered between March 2001 and March 2006, and the fact that this was not stated clearly at the time of the Budget; considers that these changes will hit those on low incomes hardest and be a further burden on hard-working families already struggling to cope with soaring living costs; further notes that, although graduated VED revenues will total £4.4 billion by 2010-11, carbon emissions from motoring are expected to reduce by less than one per cent. as a result of the new VED regime; believes that any increases in environmental taxes should be offset by tax reductions elsewhere; and calls upon the Government to abandon its planned increases in VED.
With the greatest respect to the Financial Secretary, we are disappointed that yet again the Chief Secretary has not been deployed to defend the Governments policies. Perhaps she is too busy working on plans to undo them.
The Chancellors Budget is unravelling before our eyes. The purpose of the debate this afternoon is to give it another little shove. Yesterday we witnessed the unprecedented spectacle of a Chancellor coming back to the House of Commons just 10 weeks after a Budget to unravel his income tax proposals for the current year. I remind the House that we had already seen major U-turns on the taxation of capital gains and on non-domiciled UK residents, where the Chancellor conjured up £550 million that he does not have to buy off criticism of his inept handling of those two measures.
Yesterday we saw an unprecedented emergency mini-Budget, with the Chancellor wielding the nations credit card yet again to buy his way out of trouble with a temporary fix for the ghastly mess that he had inherited from his predecessor, in the form of the doubling of the 10p tax band, making 5.3 million low- earning families worse offwith another £2.7 billion that he does not have.
So we are making progress. We have established that the Chancellor can rewrite his Budget, even though he said that he could not. We have established that he can make in-year changes, even though he told us that it was impossible. We have established that the long-accepted principle that major tax changes are announced only in Budget or pre-Budget reports has been scrapped, and that the Chancellor can in fact reverse taxation policy whenever it is convenient and politically expedient for him to do so. Let us look this afternoon for the next candidate for a U-turn.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Conservative policy on vehicle excise duty is also unravelling before our eyes? Some eight months ago we had a quality of life policy document from the Conservatives, which was launched in a hail of publicity in September 2007. It proposed
that the increase in the vehicle excise duty differential between the top and bottom bands of emission performance be capped at a maximum of £500. A few months later we have on the Order Paper a motion that goes in exactly the opposite direction. Whose policy is unravelling?
Mr. Hammond: It is the Labour partys policy that is unravelling. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the document that he cites was a report to the party from a policy review body. It was never accepted as policy of the Conservative party. It is a menu, it contains some valuable ideas, and in due course my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will announce to the public which of those policy areas he wishes to adopt as Conservative policy for the next general election, always bearing in mind the constraints within which we will operate and the mess that we will have to tackle when we assume office in a year or two.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we will not hear the Conservatives alternative economic strategy in this debate?
Mr. Hammond: I always find that it is best to get all the Whips questions out of the way early. So far, the only new ideas that the Government have had on taxation policy have been those that they have stolen from the Conservative party, so I understand the hon. Gentlemans concern that, if we do not announce a stream of new policies over the next few months, the locker will be bare when the Chancellor makes his pre-Budget report in November or December.
I was suggesting that we should turn our attention to the next candidate for a Budget U-turn, but there are not many policies left on which the Chancellor has not backed down. However, one more needs his urgent attention in this new-found listening climate. The Chancellor will have noticed that 18 Labour Members have signed the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), which calls on the Government to reconsider the changes announced in the 2008 Budget to vehicle excise duty, which will take effect in April 2009.
Mr. Hammond: I believe that the hon. Member for Reading, East is one of those Labour Members
Martin Salter: It is Reading, West, which is the preferable part of the town. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the early-day motion criticises not the thrust of the policy but its retrospective nature? That is the nub of the debate.
Mr. Hammond: To Conservatives, Reading is Reading, and it is a very sweet word.
I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman is right about the early-day motion, but I accept that he wished to draw attention to the retrospective effect of the changes that the Chancellor proposed. Indeed, the thrust of my argument will be about the retrospectivity element. It is not the only problem with the changes, but it is the biggest.
Helpfully, the hon. Member for Blyth Valley explained in the Newcastle paper The Journal his reasons for attacking the VED changes. I shall not try to do the accent, but he said:
Its like the 10p tax, its going to hit the poor. I dont know where were going hitting the working man at every corner.
The hon. Gentleman is right, because for many, driving is a necessity not a luxury. That is easily forgotten by metropolitan policy makers living in an area served by the countrys best public transport infrastructure. Even in such circumstances, Ministers demonstrate every dayand I do not criticise them for thishow for some people, because of their job, a car is a necessity, even for the shortest journeys.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the metropolitan understanding. I come from a rural island constituency and I know that many people have large vehicles. They are certainly not Chelsea tractors, and are often second-hand and not in the best nick. Those people will be badly hit, and they are already paying £1.35 a litre for diesel. One suggestion I made during consideration of the Finance Bill was that if someone was in receipt of the single farm payment it should put them in a particular category, so it would be easy for the Government to charge them a different level of duty. Even if the Government intend to pursue the main thrust of the policy, exemptions can be made.
Mr. Hammond: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I suspect that I should not revisit the details of that debate, although the Conservative spokesman on that issue did suggest that we have considerable sympathy with the thrust of the Scottish nationalists argument. However, he also drew attention to some of the serious practical problems with that solution.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Is not this yet another example of politicians saying that they are in favour of environmental policies and green taxation in general, but when it comes to the particular, finding a reason why a policy is not any good? This week, American scientists have pointed out that the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are 40 per cent. higherhigher than anyone expected. Have we not got to get serious and get real and all of us, across the parties, recognise this and act on it?
Mr. Hammond: The hon. Gentleman makes what on the face of it is a fair enough point. I will come shortly to the specific issue of the environmental effects of the policy, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene on me again at that point, I will be happy to take his intervention.
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