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[Un-allotted Half Day] — Fuel Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 7th February 2011.

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Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 6:47 pm, 7th February 2011

No, I do not.

There are real problems with fuel prices and they are strangling business in rural areas. They are an attack not only on the business itself, but on the family budget.

Mark Tami, who is no longer in his place, mentioned home fuel oil. I appreciate that it is taxed differently from petrol, so it is a different issue, but he is quite correct to say that throughout rural Scotland, the escalating price of home fuel oil-used in many hard-to-treat homes that are otherwise unable to get central heating or any heating at all-is a huge problem, which is also hitting many people. These costs is devastating the rural economy.

The right hon. Member for Torfaen also mentioned supermarkets giving discounts on petrol, but in some ways this is a somewhat insidious practice. The Minister talked about people going to petrol stations, but in many rural areas such stations have ceased to exist. One of the hidden costs of living in rural areas is that people often have to travel many miles to fill up their vehicles with petrol in the first place. Cars cannot be driven right until the orange light comes on; if they are, they are unlikely to get to a petrol station for a fill-up and will be stranded somewhere along the line. If supermarkets offer discounts, people travel long distances to get there to fill up their cars, which has a knock-on effect on business in rural areas.

The key point is that the fuel issue is at the centre of the rural economy. Unless we sort this problem out, there will be no rural economy. We will not see a recovery of businesses that are strangled by rising fuel prices. Businesses will not survive for much longer if the price continues to rise as it has recently.

I think it was Stephen Phillips who talked about the Barnett formula. Frankly, that is completely irrelevant to this argument. If we had a fuel duty stabiliser, it would apply throughout the country. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman is thinking about the derogation, which is a completely different matter: we are talking about two different systems here.

We have pushed for a fuel duty stabiliser to give certainty about the price, to allow hauliers, for example, to be able to quote in advance for a contract and know what the fuel prices are going to be. This will also allow people to look at their family budgets and know what they have to spend to get to work on a weekly or monthly basis. We need to remember that our constituents are not getting pay rises-in some cases, they are getting pay cuts-so they cannot cope with these rising prices, which impact directly on family budgets. For all those reasons, we need action now. It is all very well to talk about the problem and to look at the practicalities, but if this drags on into next year, I am afraid that many businesses will fail to survive.