HC Deb 13 February 2001 vol 363 cc153-4
10. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What recent representations he has received from the British Road Federation about the level of fuel duty. [148450]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)

The Government receive representations from a wide range of interested bodies, including the British Road Federation, regarding the level of fuel duty and transport policy. Those are considered carefully and help to inform the Chancellor's Budget judgment.

Mr. Bercow

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his informative, comprehensive and inspiring reply. Is it not a fact that, after nearly four years of Labour Government, Britain's petrol, although among the cheapest in the European Union before tax, is the most expensive after tax?

Mr. Hill

I do not think that the House is likely to forget that the major source of the increase in fuel prices in recent years resulted from the previous Government's introduction of the fuel duty escalator. If there is any responsibility for the situation in which the underlying rate of increase results largely from the increase in oil prices, it lies with the global price increase in oil and the activities of the previous Government.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend accept that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, the price of lead-free petrol in this country is virtually identical to that in France, whereas diesel is much cheaper on the continent? People may argue about prices, but do they want to pay the extremely expensive tolls that individuals have to pay in France to drive on the autoroutes?

Mr. Hill

My hon. Friend is right. In the sometimes blinkered discussions of these matters, the total impact of various imposts on fuel are not taken into account. Notwithstanding the protestations of the Opposition, the costs of motoring are lower now than they were 30 years ago, in 1970.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

The Minister is aware that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land frontier, and that the significant differentials in fuel duty between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic have an extremely detrimental impact on the petrol retail industry and the road haulage industry in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister make representations to the Treasury to have the matter addressed?

Mr. Hill

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that insight into the situation in Northern Ireland. He is aware, of course, that ministerially I have no direct responsibility for the situation in Northern Ireland, but I undertake to convey his observations to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.