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I well remember some of these details from a Finance Bill some years back, when the tax was first introduced and we tried to explore some of its complexities. I support what the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) said about the value of considering a percentage, VAT-style approach to the duty, especially if it continues to increase.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) for his undertaking to take an overall view of the impact of transport costs on the economy of the islands. This debate ties in neatly with a previous debate on vehicle excise duty, and we need an overall view of all such costs and their impact on the economy of the islands if we are to have a strategic approach to targeting assistance in the most effective way.
Three years ago, when the tax was first introduced, I moved an amendment in Committee in terms that were extremely close to those of amendment No. 25, tabled by the Liberal Democrats. That amendment has not been selected for debate, for what must be good and proper reasons, but I regret that, because I believe that it represents the right approach to the issue. If we are to tackle the disadvantages facing the Scottish islands—it is notable that all those who have spoken so far have emphasised the position of those islands as compared with other parts of the United Kingdom—we must target support and assistance in a proper, cost-effective way; so I would have been happy to support amendment No. 25, had it been selected.
I support everything that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said. He gave much background about how this will affect the Scottish islands, and explained that airline routes are essential to them.
It is worth emphasising that the public sector is a big user of the airline routes. The measure affects business people and ordinary consumers, but it also affects the public sector, and especially local authorities and health boards. Perhaps nothing more clearly illustrates the lifeline nature of the routes than the fact that they are used so extensively by local health boards, not only to carry officials around but to transport patients from island to mainland. No other health board in the country flies patients to hospital for treatment, but in the islands, it must be done; that emphasises that the airline routes are essential.
Although I understand at least part of the motivation behind the selection of amendments and the remarks made about them, I fear that they go too wide to tackle the problem specific to the Scottish islands. Amendment No. 22 is not only too wide, but probably unworkable. It is not sensible to link exemptions to objective 1 status, because its lifespan is limited. In two or three years, that status will be reviewed, and it is likely that the highlands and islands will not retain it.
An exemption made to help the region could end up missing its target. Merseyside could continue to enjoy objective I status and an exemption but the highlands and islands could be excluded. That would be absurd. It is not the outcome that we are trying to achieve. More sensible is the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central for a proper strategic approach to the range of problems that are tied up in the issue. We can then target help where it is most needed.