May 25, 2011

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At Energy and Climate Change questions, I asked Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about electric cars.

Remember Chris Huhne is facing an investigation into whether he was caught speeding and asked someone else to take the fine and points on his licence. My questions to him was: “I will resist the temptation to ask whether it is easier to stay within the speed limit in an electric car. Instead, I will ask what is the best way to make electric cars more efficient in their use of energy given that the electricity still has to be generated and that we still rely on burning fossil fuels for much of our energy.” The answer was that the government wants to make electric cars more efficient, something I agree with. The minister didn’t comment on the speed of electric cars.

There have been several news reports that the government has had a change of heart about the coastguards. Crosby Coastguard Station is under threat of closure and I have been working closely with coastguard staff and with the local community to fight the plans. I took the opportunity to ask the Deputy Speaker for help in clarifying what the government had decided. I said: ”On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Transport is still in his place to hear my point of order. Have you had any indication from him that he intends to make a statement to the House to clear up the confusion caused by his comments on television and in The Times today? Coastguards at Crosby and across the country, and the public whom they serve, are extremely concerned about the proposed changes, as are Members of all parties across the House, and we would all appreciate some clarification in a statement from the Secretary of State.” The minister, Philip Hammond was in the Chamber so he heard what I said. I hope that he will tell MPs what he has decided to do and that he has given a reprieve to Crosby.

The Finance Bill Committee continues its scrutiny of the budget and we have been debating the impact of the measures in the budget. As part of that debate we have looked at the policies of previous governments, both Labour and Conservatives and I took the opportunity to compare the impact on the economy in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s with the international financial crisis which started in 2008 with the near collapse of the banking system. I compared the approach of the last Conservative government with the approach of the last Labour government in particular the impact of high fuel prices on business, on commuters and on families. 

Here is what I said in the debate in response to comments from Alison McGovern, the MP for Wirral South: “My honourable Friend makes a good analysis of the difference between the recessions in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the recession from which I hope we are just emerging. It is important to remember that the measures taken by the Labour Government meant that people were much better protected in a much deeper recession. I want to comment on what my honourable Friend said about business. In my constituency, something like 40% of people earn their living from small business or self-employment. The increase in VAT and the potential rise in fuel duty is crippling for them. Such people are crucial to driving the recovery; those measures will damage the recovery in Sefton and beyond.”

I then went on to ask the Conservative minister, Justine Greening, whether she accepted that the price of fuel will go up another 8 or 9 pence next year as a result of the this year’s budget and the VAT rise. The minister refused to accept what I said, but according to the Finance Bill, that is exactly what is going to happen. 

In my view, the cost of fuel is far too high and it is hurting commuters and families across Sefton. The high cost of fuel also hits businesses, especially the small businesses and people who are self-employed. We need those businesses to create jobs and to replace the jobs being lost through the cuts in the public sector.

That’s why I am calling for the VAT rise to be reversed and for the fuel duty rises to be cancelled, to kick start the economy and to help hard pressed families.