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Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In view of the extra revenue, which may amount to £2 billion, arising from the increase in the price of oil from 22 to 30 dollars per barrel, will the Government consider cutting the high level of transport taxes generally and fuel tax and vehicle excise duties, which I understand for some heavy goods vehicles are eight times higher than in France?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to speculate as he wishes on the revenue effects. I can only say that a number of factors affect revenue and work in different directions. For example, higher oil prices increase the profits of companies which operate in the North Sea and, therefore, the amount of corporation tax that they pay. However, they reduce the profits of others who pay more for their petrol and that decreases corporation tax. We gain VAT on oil but lose it on the products which people do not buy because they have to pay more for oil. The increase in price has no effect on fuel duty, which is a fixed amount per litre. These are complex considerations. If the noble Lord is able to make a quick calculation of their net effect he is a better man than I am.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, does not the vast booty from these taxes, which the Minister is unable to disclose, result largely from problems in the Middle East? Does the Minister agree that the Government are accumulating a vast war chest which they will use in due course to promote themselves at the next election? Can the noble Lord take pride in that?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, is more cautious than his noble friend Lord Northbrook, in that he refers only to a "vast booty" rather than an actual figure. I believe that he goes further than the evidence suggests and underestimates the extent to which taxes on petrol, both VAT and fuel duty, are only a very small part of the total revenue that is available to this country. Therefore, the conclusion that the noble Lord draws about war chests is not valid.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is the tax on diesel fuel for lorries which is one of the biggest problems? All deliveries of retail goods to shops, whether of clothes, food or white goods, are made by lorry in the final resort. Does the Minister agree therefore that this is a tax on every citizen of this country, including hauliers and farmers, and it is very important that it should be reduced?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. That is why Ministers have been engaged in continuing, lengthy discussions with hauliers. The participants also include those who took part in the protests last month, although in the context of a clear understanding that we do not give way to pressure arising from protests.
We recognise that the price of diesel is a significant factor in the cost of many other goods sold in this country. However, although fuel tax may be higher, the total costs borne by haulage firms are very much less in the United Kingdom because of lower rates of corporation tax and the absence, for example, of motorway tolls.
Lord Newby: My Lords, we listened carefully to the noble Lord's original Answer. However, surely he must admit that, if the price of crude oil rises, the net effect on the UK Exchequer is an increase in revenues, although offsetting effects should also be considered? Perhaps I may press the noble Lord, as other noble Lords have done, on whether, in the light of events that have taken place over the past six weeks, it would be
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is more cautious than the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, who in turn was more cautious than the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. I was asked to give an assessment of the additional revenue accruing to the Treasury. My response now, as then, is that that is a matter for the Chancellor to consider for the Pre-Budget Report on 8th November.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, following tangentially on the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, can the Minister confirm the view, widely touted in Government circles and one certainly implied by the Prime Minister, that any reduction in motoring taxes would give rise to a corresponding reduction in the availability of funds for spending on core items such as health and education?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that must be the case. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, will be aware that a reduction in fuel duty of the kind proposed by the Conservative Party; namely, around 3p per litre--after stating that they would not be influenced by the protests--would result in savings to the average motorist of approximately £3 per month.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the Government publish an annual report on women's policy in accordance with the United Nation's Beijing Platform for Action agreed by the previous administration in 1995. For the past two years we have published the report in an accessible magazine format called Voices. Last year's report was particularly commended at the United Nations Special Assembly on Women held in June. We expect this year's report to be read by 1 million women. It costs 51p per copy to produce.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her Answer. Does she accept that the dispute does not concern the importance of the subject matter, but rather the fact that the Government have produced their own far from independent magazine when so many commercial titles already cover the same issues? The Government are in danger of giving rise to the impression that they are ignoring the boundary
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend sitting in her place behind me has asked whether the noble Viscount has read the publication. I suspect that he has but--without wishing to trespass on the range of the noble Viscount's reading matter-- I hesitate to think that he is probably a regular reader of women's magazines. All I can say to him is that the information contained in Voices was extremely carefully researched. This year we enjoyed the great advantage of receiving specialised help from a particularly well-renowned women's magazine. That contribution enabled us to give women information of a kind which I think that it would be extremely difficult to describe as party political. For example, the magazine includes at the back detailed information as regards help on a range of issues and lists addresses to which people may apply for practical advice. It would be difficult to criticise that on party political grounds. Indeed, it is an extremely good publication on which we received expert help.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I have been a regular reader of Voices since its original publication and a rather irregular reader of conventional women's magazines. Perhaps I may congratulate the Leader of the House. This is exactly the kind of publication that many women need and will find extremely useful. Perhaps I may say further that I do not think that it is characterised by propaganda, but rather by information of a kind that, for women, is extremely important. Will the noble Baroness accept those compliments?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Gladly, my Lords. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. She has put her finger on the precise point here: the magazine aims to provide choices and information for women in a way which we hope is more acceptable and accessible to them than perhaps would be the case with more conventional government publications. It is also interesting to note that, since the publication was distributed to the 130,000 subscribers to Good Housekeeping--along with a wide distribution to doctors' surgeries and so forth--we have received an additional 2,000 requests made directly to the Cabinet Office for more copies of the magazine.
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