Increase of duty on hydrocarbon oil etc.

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 30th April 1981.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey 4:45 pm, 30th April 1981

A reduction of 5p on petrol would reduce the yield by some £220 million, which is again a substantial sum.

The tax on petrol is in fact less now than it was in 1950,. 1960 or 1970. As a proportion of the total price of petrol, it is now lower than it was throughout the decade up to the oil crisis of 1973.

The right hon. Gentleman invited me to comment on the conservation argument. I must put forward the proposition that it is a legitimate argument to bear in mind. It was legitimate to restore the proportion of tax as one aspect of a policy to maintain conservative use of energy of that kind.

5 pm

As I believe my hon. Friend pointed out, before the Budget the price of petrol in the United Kingdom was the lowest in the European Community, with the exception of Germany. Since the Budget, the price has come broadly into line with the rest of the Community, and in real terms it is the same now as it was after the 1980 Budget.

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, higher petrol duty involves, among other things, an increase in business costs. But, again, one must approach that whole area in the context of a Budget that was designed to meet the burdens still facing us in fiscal terms by placing those burdens as far as possible upon consumers and doing as much as was possible within that context to help the business community.

One must point out, for example, that businesses obtain relief on the VAT element of the increase in petrol duty. The effect on business costs must in any case be set alongside the benefits brought to industry by the Budget. There is the £450 million full year relief from the change in stock relief. There are the proposals in relation to energy prices. There is a whole range of tax incentives for new and small businesses. Above all, perhaps, because this is at the centre of the Budget strategy, there was the reduction of 2 per cent. in interest rates at that time, bringing the total reduction to 5 per cent. since last summer.