Monthly newsletter Edition 8 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1
I was pleased that the legitimate and well-ordered protest about fuel taxes came to an end when it did. The people concerned represented a huge swathe of public opinion and made their case with calmness, persistence and humour. The damaging financial pressure on rural communities, road hauliers and the ordinary driver has been increasingly difficult to bear and something had to give. It takes a great deal to provoke we British but, when aroused, opponents and Governments ignore us at their peril. We have the most highly-taxed petrol in Europe, possibly the World, and 77.9p per litre includes Tax and Duty of 62 pence. That is all down to the Government, since the same fuel costs, for example, 52 pence in Ireland and 37 pence in Andorra. Messrs. Blair and Brown must act upon public anger, otherwise the charge of wilful neglect of the needs of British transport users will stand hard against them.
Another lengthy Transport & Regions Committee Meeting last week, culminating in two hours of voting! Some important issues were discussed, notably the liberalisation of postal services throughout the EU, maritime safety as it relates to the prevention of pollution by oil tankers, changes in the operational management of aircraft cabins (hand luggage, seating etc.), the transport of dangerous goods by road and, most importantly, the budget for next year. I, and my Conservative Colleagues on the Committee, am making Herculean efforts to insist upon cost justification and time limits for regional aid schemes, a plan for targeting grants where really needed, and, where possible, an actual reduction in the expenditure of taxpayers' money.
I visited fishermen in Fleetwood and Whitehaven last month and spent a fascinating (early!) morning at the Fleetwood Fish Auction and then with a large Processor. I discussed their problems with both groups and the lack of real interest or action from the Government and then wrote, in forceful terms, to Fisheries Minister, Eliott Morley, about three issues:- the "hoovering up" of small fish by large Belgian, Dutch and Irish beam-trawlers, the lack of Government support for renewing the 25-year-old British fishing fleet and the potential loss of livelihoods for NW fishermen. His answer was derisory and I am pursuing the cause with the Commissioner, Franz Fischler, and the Conservative Spokesmen at Westminster and in Brussels. The Commission are now also proposing that fishing vessels should radically improve their safety records by re-equipping boats and re-training crews. This will be a cost to the smaller, older, owner-skippered boats - prevalent in our region - which they can ill-afford. But there are European Funds to assist and almost all fishing Member States have applied. Guess who has not? - the British Government! I have demanded that Labour Ministers do so, whenever and however necessary.