By Jonathan Isaby
The first of yesterday's opposition day debates in the Commons saw a Labour motion demanding a reversal in January's VAT rise with respect to road fuel and asking where the fuel duty stabiliser was – all in the name of the "hard pressed motorist".
The hypocrisy of Labour's position, given its record in government, was not lost on Conservative MPs, who proceeded to harry Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was opening the debate.
Here is a selection of their interventions and her non-replies to their points:
Greg Knight: Will the hon. Lady help the House? Over the past 13 years, in every aspect of Government policy, the Labour Government were deliberately and decisively anti-motorist. Does the motion before the House today represent a seismic shift in policy, or is it, as we suspect, a transient spat of opportunism?
Ms Eagle: I am rather sorry that I gave way so early in my remarks to that kind of comment. I do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s caricature of our policies for motorists. Perhaps he has been reading too much of the Daily Express.
Robert Halfon: I find the Labour motion astonishing, because over the past few years the hon. Lady’s party crucified Harlow’s motorists by putting up fuel duty by 6% a year and increasing it more than 12 times—and it was going to introduce another tax.
Ms Eagle: I will come to the details of the motion later. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do us the honour of staying in the Chamber and listening to that.
Charlie Elphicke: To clear up the addling of some minds in the House regarding the history of this matter, will she confirm that in 1997 duty was 36.86p and today it is 57.19p?
Ms Eagle: One has to remember that the price of petrol at the election was £1.20 a litre, at a time when the Conservatives were promising to cut 10p off the price of a litre because petrol prices were too high. It is now £1.32 a litre.
Brandon Lewis: Will she confirm that, despite what has been said, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is right: there were 12 fuel duty rises under the Labour Government, and six more were set to come into force before they left office and would have done in the next few years?
Ms Eagle: As I said, we had six years when we did not even increase the price of fuel by inflation, so there were real-terms price falls. The number of increases in all sorts of duties tends to expand the more one is in government.
Andrew Bridgen: The Labour party’s apparent Damascene conversion on fuel taxes will amaze and intrigue the bulk of the electorate. Will the hon. Lady confirm whether she supported the crafty action of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who effectively excluded fuel from a VAT reduction in 2008 by raising duty, and then put the VAT on fuel back up to 17.5% in January 2010?
Ms Eagle: One minute Government Members say that we have no plan to deal with the deficit, and the next minute they complain that we had a plan that would have raised money. They really do try to have it both ways and are not remotely coherent.
"The previous Government increased fuel duty four times in their last 16 months in office… They left many tax bombshells, but perhaps that pre-planned tax increase was the tax road mine. There was a pre-planned additional per pence increase on fuel and a pre-planned year-on-year RPI increase—the so-called escalator. Ironically and utterly bizarrely, we are today debating a Labour motion that goes against the policy introduced by the previous Labour Government.
"Listening to the Opposition is stunning. The outgoing Chief Secretary’s message to the incoming Government was that there was no money left. Worse than that, the previous Government had pre-planned increases, which were due to come in now… The bottom line is that it is outrageous for the Labour party to cry crocodile tears about tax increases that it had planned—it is disingenuous in the extreme, and shows that it has no credibility and no leadership on the issues that matter to people, such as motoring, which we are debating today. The audacity of the motion is stunning."