Mr Speaker – This is my tenth pre-budget report, and under this government the tenth consecutive year of growth. I can report not only the longest period of sustained growth in our history, but of all the major economies – America, France, Germany, Japan – Britain has enjoyed the longest post war period of continuous growth.
Ten years ago Britain was 7th in the G7, bottom of the league for national income per head. In the last two years Britain has been second only to the USA. In no other decade has Britain's personal wealth - up 60 per cent - grown so fast.
I therefore conclude that we are, as a nation, one of the best-placed on Earth to respond to the serious environmental challenges that face our world.
Mr Speaker, it is not unusual for Pre-Budget Reports to receive media attention before they are announced in this house. I was amused to read reports of what I intend to say today in this morning’s press.
It was suggested that I intend to announce £1 billion-worth of green taxes. It was suggested that I intend to raise petrol duty by 1.25% and double air passenger duty – finally bringing it back to the level it was at when this government took office in 1997. There has been talk of tax relief for biofuels and exempting carbon-neutral homes from stamp duty.
Mr Speaker – it is clear that such paltry measures would make little or no difference to the environmental challenges we face. We are going to have to do a lot better than that. Starting today, I intend to unleash the great radical, reforming spirit of this party, the spirit embodied by of Bevan, Attlee and Beveridge, to save not just this nation, but the planet.
So I am announcing today the following measures.
Firstly, it has become clear that our methods of calculating wealth, and consequently growth, are skewed and inaccurate. Companies are able to claim financial success and consequent profit by externalising their environmental costs onto society. This is damaging for the environment and for the economy.
So, Mr Speaker, I am announcing the creation today of a commission which will investigate this issue as a matter of urgency, and report back to me in six months with proposals to force all companies in the United Kingdom to internalise all their environmental costs. This may involve, for example, airlines meeting the costs of combatting global warming, supermarkets being taxed according to the distance their products have traveled, and Top Gear presenters being forced to finance the clean-up of road accidents.
We anticipate, Mr Speaker, that the result of such a change will be the relocalisation of economic activity, and the dying-out of destructive industries.
To augment this, I am announcing today a major package of incentives and financial support for companies conducting research into sustainable and renewable technologies.
I am also announcing a progressive removal of the red tape which prevents small and local businesses from competing fairly with multinational companies.
This will be combined with a windfall tax on all multinational retail outlets operating on Britain’s high streets, with the money raised going to fund the promotion of local food production.
Recognising that a modern economy cannot operate without a modern transport system, I am also announcing today a package of £10 billion of initial spending on the construction of new railway lines, a modern, national coach network, the restructuring of major city centres around pedestrians and cycle transport, and research and development into hydrogen fuel cells. Funding will be raised by diverting the £600m which someone wanted me to spend on the disastrous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, introducing congestion charging on all major roads and
progressively raising fuel taxes.
Mr Speaker, I am also announcing today the free insulation of all houses in Britain and the introduction, in consultation with relevant departments, of regulations requiring all newbuilt houses in the country to be fully carbon-neutral, from 2008.
On the subject of housebuilding, Mr Speaker, it is clear that current plans to construct 200,000 new homes a year over the next two decades are unsustainable. It is also clear that the recent report by Kate Barker, proposing a relaxation of planning laws in favour of big business and developers is frankly, crazy. I am therefore announcing the sacking of Kate Barker with immediate effect. She will be replaced by Simon Fairlie, a longtime campaigner on sustainable planning, who will be a given a remit to reform planning laws to encourage low-impact development and ecological construction.
Mr Speaker, I am confident that this package of measures will give our country a headstart in creating a green economy for the 21st century. And I commend this statement to the House.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2006