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[Un-allotted Half Day] — Fuel Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 7th February 2011.

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Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk 6:40 pm, 7th February 2011

We can debate that another day.

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues spoke eloquently about the needs of the rural economy, and I know that he will want to send his best wishes to one of the most exciting businesses in Norfolk, the English Whisky Co., which is doing great trade. As in so many debates, most of the suggestions that he and his colleagues made would lead to an increase in expenditure by the Exchequer, and, representing an English constituency, I find myself thinking, "English tax for Scottish voters." His points on the rural economy were good ones, however, and I want to touch on the impact of fuel prices on that economy and offer some thoughts on how the Government might like to tackle the issue.

Fuel costs hit rural areas particularly hard, not only in Scotland but in England and Wales. In my constituency, where I am lucky enough to have four towns, 110 villages and a 130-mile boundary, the rurality is extreme. Fuel currently costs 130p a litre, which means that the average family are paying £70-odd to fill up their car. That is not a matter to be taken lightly. Families are hit particularly hard, especially those on low incomes who, it has been pointed out, tend to drive older, less efficient cars. Another group that is hit hard by high fuel costs is one by which the coalition has set so much store-namely, the people who are working hard to get out of welfare and into work. Small businesses are also affected, especially those in remote rural areas. They are crucial to the revitalisation of the rural economy.

The public sector is also affected by fuel costs. Many rural councils are hit very hard by their dependence on fuel, and this is another area in which rural councils in England have received particularly unfair treatment. Farmers are also hard hit, especially those growing commodity crops such as sugar beet and potatoes that require long-distance haulage. Hauliers are affected too, especially smaller, self-employed hauliers, who tell me that they are hit by the unfairness of the lack of a level playing field on which to compete with their European competitors.