HC Deb 26 November 1996 vol 286 cc167-8

I am glad to say that pollution from vehicles is already coming down, helped by tax measures in previous Budgets. The tax measures that we took to encourage unleaded petrol were a huge success. It now accounts for two thirds of the petrol market. I want to go further in this Budget for green purposes or, to put it more sensibly, to attack pollution in cities and to improve air quality by effective steps to reduce particulate emissions—the smoke produced by diesel engines.

In recent years, new evidence has come to light strengthening the health arguments for reducing particulates. This pollution is being reduced, but we all want to see it being reduced further and faster.

Ultra-low sulphur diesel is cleaner than ordinary diesel and it is slightly more expensive to produce, so I want to create the conditions where ultra-low sulphur diesel can cost the same at the pump as ordinary diesel. I have just said that I am increasing the tax on diesel by the same amount as petrol. I plan to reduce the duty on ultra-low sulphur diesel by 1p per litre relative to ordinary diesel, when I get the necessary international agreement.

I also want to encourage high-mileage vehicles in our towns and cities to switch to cleaner gas power. Last year's Budget changes broadly equalised the pump prices of liquid gas and petrol. From 6 o'clock tonight, I am reducing the duty on road fuel gases by a further 25 per cent.

I also intend to reduce vehicle excise duty by up to £500 for lorries meeting very stringent emissions standards from early 1998. That will give an incentive for lorry owners to fit particulate traps or to convert to gas power. We will be consulting on the practical details of those changes.

I believe that this air quality package will significantly speed up the reduction of urban emissions of particulates, helping us to meet our air quality targets for 2005 and beyond. We intend to ensure that the economic growth that we are achieving faster than others in this country is consistent with a healthy environment and with sustainable development as we become one of the most successful economies in the western world.

In my 1993 Budget, I gave a commitment to raise duty on tobacco by more than inflation each year. I believe and accept that that is a fair and effective way to hammer home the message that smoking can seriously damage one's health. So far as I am concerned, this announcement is necessary masochism in the wider public interest.

From 6 o'clock this evening, the tax on a packet of 20 cigarettes will increase by about 15p, on a packet of small cigars by about 7p and on a packet of pipe tobacco by about 8p, but I am limiting the increase in the duty on hand-rolling tobacco to the rate of inflation. Hand-rolling tobacco is proving to be by far the easiest tobacco product to smuggle, although it represents a very small part of the tobacco market.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

What time do the shops close?

Mr. Clarke

Not yet.

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