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Representing a sparsely populated rural constituency, I am only too aware of the severe impact of the high fuel price on motorists and local businesses. It is important to remember that, in remote areas, a car is an essential, not a luxury.
Let us consider the purpose of high fuel duty. Two arguments are often advanced: the green argument and the tax-raising argument. The green argument does not stack up in rural areas, because it is based on encouraging people out of their cars and on to public transport. That fails completely in the highland and islands of Scotland, where buses are few and far between. Indeed, there would be no point in rural councils in remote areas subsidising buses that run with only one or two passengers to try to reduce carbon emissions. Clearly, one or two people taking a car will cause far fewer carbon emissions than one or two people on a bus.
I represent many of the islands of the Inner Hebrides, and the price of fuel is far higher there than on the mainland. On the larger islands, such as Mull and Islay, the price of a litre of fuel is typically 15p higher than in a city. On the smaller islands, such as Coll and Colonsay, the price is often about 30p a litre higher. I was therefore delighted when the Government announced their intention to pursue a pilot scheme under which there would be a 5p fuel duty discount on many islands, including the Inner Hebrides. I realise that they must get EU permission to go ahead with that scheme, but since other EU countries operate a similar scheme for islands, I see no reason why permission will not be granted. It takes time to take such projects through the EU, and it is important that the Government get their proposals right, but I plead with them to take their proposals through as quickly as is humanly possible.