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[Un-allotted Half Day] — Fuel Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:33 pm on 7th February 2011.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitutional Reform), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland) 6:33 pm, 7th February 2011

I shall try to be brief to allow my hon. Friend Mr Weir to get in.

Simply put, fuel in my constituency costs a ridiculous amount, at £1.45 a litre. What we want, in essence, is to pay the same tax as elsewhere. We are only looking for fairness. A rural fuel derogation would not achieve fairness, but it would take us to the foothills of fairness and would be a big step in the right direction, reducing the price from £1.45 a litre to £1.40. I have sympathy with those in South Derbyshire; I only wish I was enjoying the prices that they are currently burdened with. We have to remember that, at the back of this debate, we want to look at fuel distribution throughout the country, which is often a difficulty to do with refineries-part of the excuse that some of the companies use as well.

Remoteness is often blamed, but I discovered recently that while we pay £1.44 a litre, those in the Faroe islands pay 94p a litre for diesel and £1.10 for petrol. For those who do not know, the Faroe islands are halfway between the Hebrides and Iceland, where petrol and diesel are £1.10 a litre. We do not need to go too far back to remember the difficult economic situation that Iceland faced. It has a big debt, although its deficit is not in the same situation as the UK's, but it clearly understands that high fuel costs choke recovery. Iceland is not making that mistake; indeed, in the last quarter, Icelandic GDP grew far more than the UK's. The Government here can talk of the deficit, but if they carry on like this, they will choke the recovery and will not see revenues flowing into their coffers, as they should and would like to.

The price is painful for us. As I left Benbecula this morning, the fuel concerns of Mr Alec MacIntosh, who works at Benbecula airport, were ringing in my ear, and small wonder, as he had just bought some fuel at £1.46 a litre. I think that his week's wages had just about gone in filling up his vehicle. Those at Stornoway airport attacked my other eardrum on the issue. There is scarcely a place I can go without people seeing me as a telegraph to relay to the Treasury the pain that people are feeling. That pain is real, and I hope that that is taken on board. Indeed, it is not just pain; it is anger, because people know that more tax is flooding from my constituency to London than from just about any other constituency. We have the highest fuel poverty in the UK, and small wonder. The islands really need a rural fuel derogation, and they need it quickly. Katy Clark spoke earlier, and I have sympathy with those on Arran, too. Indeed, I saw the MSP for Arran, Kenny Gibson, on the television vociferously calling for a rural fuel derogation.

The high cost has an impact on a whole raft of other budgets. Local councils are haemorrhaging cash because they can run their vehicles only by paying higher fuel costs-again, the money goes directly to the Treasury-as are our health boards, and our police, fire, coastguard and ambulance services. They are all having to deal with budgetary cuts every time they fill up their vehicles, because of the cost of fuel. Businesses are losing too, and less money is circulating locally. Indeed, so vexed was one constituent of mine-Erica MacDonald-that she started a petition a few months ago and came to the Treasury. She is now wondering whether the EU's rural development policy-€96 billion over a number of years-can be used. I do not think that it can, but such is the level of research being done by individual voters in rural and island Scotland, who are looking for solutions and hoping that the Treasury will listen to some of them.

Talking of solutions, we certainly listened to the Labour party earlier. We heard a repetition of what I would call the Pontius Pilate approach. The Labour party seemingly has no view on a rural fuel derogation or a fuel duty stabiliser, and no other plans or suggestions. Indeed, if those on the Labour Front Bench have a concrete plan or suggestion, I would ask them to tell us what it is. We definitely heard no apology for the years we spent in this place listening to the previous Government's excuses for doing absolutely nothing, leaving places such as the Outer Hebrides with shockingly high fuel costs.