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The hon. Gentleman remembers correctly. I had the misfortune to hear the then Secretary of State for Scotland, now the noble Lord Younger of Prestwick, announcing the retreat from road equivalent tariff. That is just an example of the greater burdens that exist.
Parents who live in Orkney and Shetland will pay £30 in additional taxation to take a child to hospital in Aberdeen. I have received parliamentary answers showing that the additional cost to the Orkney and Shetland health boards runs into tens of thousands of pounds as a result of the additional taxation that will be levied.
In Committee, the Exchequer Secretary said that he was not unsympathetic to the views being put forward. Indeed, in a letter to me on 19 February, he repeats that he is
sympathetic to the issues raised about the lifeline nature of some services in the Islands",
but thinks that the exemption from air passenger duty is not necessarily the way to deal with that. He goes on:
in recognition of the valuable service provided by air transport to
the Scottish Islands communities, the Government decided that subsidy was the best way forward.
I have rarely heard that said by a Conservative Minister, but it is a fact of life.
Additional funding was made available to enable the Western Isles council for example to offset the effects of APD. I think this is a more effective way of granting relief as subsidies can be better targeted to routes where it has been objectively shown that help is needed to keep them in existence.
The subsidy is very limited: there is certainly no subsidised route between my constituency and the Scottish mainland. Again, I have to meet the Minister tomorrow with the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) to go into the matter in more detail, but it would be interesting to hear what he has in mind with regard to greater targeting of support to vulnerable routes.
A paper prepared by the Scottish Office for the most recent meeting of the Highlands and Islands Convention in Stornoway said:
The Government recognise, however, the concerns about APD are real and that commercially fragile routes in the Highlands and Islands are under threat. The Government are giving the matter the fullest consideration.
I welcome that consideration, but I hope that it will be productive.