HC Deb 13 December 1978 vol 960 cc638-40
7. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates he has made of the effect on transport in rural areas of Scotland of the proposals contained within the Department of Transport's document on the future of vehicle excise duty.

30. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he had with local authorities and groups involved with rural communities before the publication of the Department of Transport's document on the future of vehicle excise duty.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

As my right hon. Friend told the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 27th November, the Government's information paper gives details of the decision to change from vehicle excise duty to an enhanced petrol tax and discusses the factors taken into account in reaching this decision.

Mr. Steel

Is the Minister aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said that this should not have any serious effect in the rural areas, and that in saying that he is under a complete misapprehension? Will the Minister take note of the representations from industry and from individuals in the rural areas? Will he accept that Scottish Members tend to look to the Scottish Office to protect their interests, not just those within its statutory responsibilities but in relation to other Government Departments? At present, given the transport document and the rate support grant proposals, the Scottish Office is giving the impression that it is writing off the rural areas of Scotland.

Mr. MacKenzie

Scottish Office Ministers always take these matters into consideration and convey views to their colleagues. I do not take the same view about the rural remoteness as I have seen taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that it will be as much to the advantage of those who live in rural areas as it will be to others. Indeed, many people who live in rural areas will be able to put a motor car on the road when they could not previously have afforded to do so.

Mr. Monro

Does the Minister accept that most people find it incomprehensible that his Department does not seem to have consulted those who know something about the countryside and rural areas? How can he stand at that Dispatch Box and say that this will not affect the rural areas? Of course it will. Does not the Minister appreciate that it may cost an extra £70 to do 15,000 miles a year, which is a very average home-to-work distance in Scotland, and that all these people, and motor cyclists in particular, will be exceptionally heavily penalised?

Mr. MacKenzie

There is one thing that ought to be made crystal clear. We have said it in the documents, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said it several times. Taking an average journey of about 16 miles to work, and so forth, there will still be a margin of about 3,000 extra miles, and I believe that this will be to the advantage of people living in rural areas.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us are surprised at his assertion that people in rural areas will be better off under these proposals? Would he care to make available some detailed figures to prove the case that he is trying to put forward?

Mr. MacKenzie

I do not think that I need to go further than I have. I have said that there is a substantial margin and that people in rural areas who could not afford to put a motor car on the road will now be able to do so.

Mr. Watt

In view of the representations today from all parts of the House, will the Minister take a fresh look at this problem and ask his colleague at the Ministry of Transport to judge the effect that it will have on many workers who live in rural areas, who are on low wage rates and who will find that they are better off staying at home than going to work?

Will the Minister pay attention also to the damage that this scheme will do to the rural delivery services in Scotland? Many of them will have to go off the road if the measure is implemented.

Mr. MacKenzie

The hon. Gentleman knows that all these matters will have to go through the House of Commons and that when that happens he will be able to make the speech that he has just made.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the Minister aware that many people in rural areas, after reading the Government's answers today, will get the impression that the Government are living in cloud-cuckoo-land? Will he make a point of trying to find out more about the views of those in rural areas, and will he bear in mind that many people in those areas have no option but to use cars as they have to travel considerable distances to work?

Mr. MacKenzie

I am bound to say that there is always a bit of conflict between rural areas and urban areas in a matter of this kind. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to consult the electors of Castlemilk and Newlands and then come back to me.

Mr. Carmichael

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is basically a long-awaited change in the licensing law for vehicles and that, as he said, many people in rural areas will find that, for the first time, they are able to operate a motor car? The initial standing charge is the reason why it has been impossible for many people to run a car. If my right hon. Friend goes to parts of Argyll he will see cars on blocks. They are not able to be used because of the initial cost of putting them on the road.

Mr. MacKenzie

My hon. Friend is right. The matter was given a great deal of thought. The whole question of rural areas was very carefully considered, as were the problems of those who live in the urban areas, and it was on this basis that the Government took the decision.

Mr. Monro

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Due to the thoroughly complacent reply of the Minister, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment.