HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1002-4
11. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will now set up a departmental committee to monitor the effects of price increases in fuel in rural areas which have a comparatively low average earnings level.

Mr. John Smith

No, Sir. Data are already available for expenditure by households in rural areas, broken down by income ranges.

Mr. Steel

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that since I tabled the Question I have had an Adjournment debate on the subject. When does he expect the study of two-tier pricing for petrol to be complete? Is there a target date for it?

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that I cannot give a date. We are considering the matter as speedily as we can, and as soon as any conclusion is reached the House will be informed.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

As we now have it confirmed that last year's rate of inflation was 19 per cent. and not the figure given by the Chancellor just before the last election, and as we know that Government taxation now represents a very significant part of the increase in petrol prices, when will the Government come forward with a firm plan to help those in rural areas for whom a car is a necessity, not a luxury?

Mr. Smith

I said in reply to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) on Question No. 4 that we cannot totally exempt people in rural areas from the effects of these price increases. The hon. Gentleman is properly concerned about our rural areas, as all hon. Members are, but I think that that concern ought to be directed on a much wider front because, as I have already said, people in urban areas are often in considerable difficulty as well. We have to look at the whole picture in devising a scheme. That is one of the complications which demand that we consider it carefully, because a half-baked scheme which did not work properly would be worse than a well considered scheme, if we decided to adopt it when our deliberations were concluded.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

As Scotland is a country with many remote areas, does not the Minister think it appropriate that there should be a lower rate of petrol duty in Scotland, especially as Scotland is soon to become an oil-exporting country?

Mr. Smith

I do not think that that would be appropriate. The hon. Gentle- man should remember that long before Britain becomes an oil exporting country, and Scotland, as part of Britain, shares in that, the British taxpayer will have put a great deal into providing the infrastructure and all other things necessary to get the oil out.