02 March 2011

S3M-8032 Fuel Duty

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8032, in the name of Keith Brown, on fuel duty.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

It is a great pleasure to speak on the subject of fuel duty. In my first contribution in the Parliament in 2001, I spoke about fishing, which is a vital interest for my constituents. Therefore, it is a great pleasure as I make my 400th speech today to speak about something of equal importance. [Applause.] I thank members for that kind applause. It is richly deserved—for those who have had to listen to my 400 speeches.
Jackson Carlaw (Conservative): I will start with the most outstanding speech in the debate, which was from the former minister Stewart Stevenson
I will be serious. The fair fuel price campaign featured in the middle of the newsletter that I distributed in 2001 for my first election to the Parliament. Fair fuel prices were an issue then, and they remain an issue today for rural constituencies such as mine. In 1997, the price of a litre of petrol was 61p. Alison McInnes referred to the price of diesel in Banff. I understand that the price of petrol in Banff today is 134.9p a litre. When I had my first car, I could fill up its tank, take the four people in the car for a fish supper, go to the cinema, and get change from a pound.

The world has changed, but the Labour Party’s inability to engage on the subject has not. When it debated it in April last year, parties were able to coalesce around a shared belief that we had to take action, but the Labour Party—the 36 members of it who turned up to vote, that is; 10 were missing—was on the wrong side of the argument, and the indications are that it will be on the wrong side of the argument today.

Charlie Gordon: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will do so later.

Charlie Gordon said in that debate that he remembered lager being half a crown a pint, so I know that he is of a similar age to me.

Those staggering increases in the cost of fuel affect everyone, not simply motorists. If businesses face higher fuel costs, those costs are in turn passed on to consumers and we all pay more for the things that we buy. The case for a fuel duty regulator to halt the constant fuel price increases that people face has never been more urgent.

I do not have an intrinsic difficulty with the idea of reversing the recent VAT increase on fuel that the Labour Party proposes in its amendment; my fundamental difficulty is that although that would give some relief, it would be a one-time hit, whereas what the Labour Party seeks to delete from the motion is a proposal that would provide a long-term, permanent solution to smooth out the price of fuel. The one thing that really affects business and individuals is erratic changes in prices. A study of the graph that the House of Commons has provided in its research shows that pricing has become much more erratic in nature.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): The member describes a fuel duty regulator as a permanent solution to the problem of volatility. Surely he accepts that it is not a permanent solution to fuel price rises, which, at present, are not being driven by taxation.

Stewart Stevenson: I absolutely accept that if the intrinsic price of the underlying raw material is to change over a long period of time—I think we all accept that it is—we cannot beat the system, but we must give business the certainty of understanding what its costs will be.

Charlie Gordon rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am coming to Charlie Gordon in a minute.

We must also give rural constituents such as mine the opportunity to do their budgeting, as well as giving them some relief in the meantime.

Charlie Gordon: As an aside, can I say that I yearn for the days when I was younger and better looking than the former transport minister?

I have explained that the Government’s own advisory body says that a regulator would not work. I have made it clear that we are being practical: cutting back the VAT on fuel is a practical measure that can be taken this month. If the member checks the Official Report of the debate that we had a year ago, he will see that I left the door open, as I did earlier this evening, on the concept of some limited derogation for very remote rural parts of Scotland.
Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrat): I had the privilege of being invited to bear witness to Stewart Stevenson’s 400th oration
Stewart Stevenson: If the door is capable of being opened, the three parties who are on the other side of the argument in the debate are handing the Labour Party the key. It should take it, turn the key and go through the door. A fuel duty regulator is a process by which we can give certainty and use the huge sums that the Treasury has—it has £1 billion in tax more than it anticipated having—to fund relief for people in rural areas who simply do not have alternative means of transport and who have to use their cars to go to work or to the shops, and to undertake social, educational or medical journeys. It is extremely important that we focus on that.
Charlie Gordon (Labour): It was good to debate with Stewart Stevenson again. Once again, I found him to be a conscientious adversary
I welcome the fact that it appears that our island communities are to receive some relief, but many mainland communities are equally remote and equally affected by fuel prices. A fuel duty regulator would be a way of controlling price, and I hope that members will coalesce behind the Government’s motion and unite in sending a message to the Government at Westminster.


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