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Transport Fuel Costs

Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what examination the Welsh Office has made of the impact of transport fuel costs on the economy of Wales.

The impact on the economy of transport expenditure as a whole forms part of the background to the Government's review of transport policy.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that, particularly coming on top of the abrupt withdrawal of REP, the proposed increase in fuel costs will have a devastating effect on many firms and will contribute to increased unemployment?

I do not accept that. The Budget will have a minimal effect on Welsh industry, and a rough calculation has been made of about 0ยท056 per cent. of industrial turnover.

Is the Minister aware that it is difficult to imagine a tax more damaging to the rural areas of the Principality? Will he take account of the fact that in large parts of Wales people are peculiarly dependent on private transport? Whatever he may say, this will run counter to the Government's policy of making Wales a development area and, indeed, of setting up the Welsh Development Agency. Is not this an idiotic tax in the context of the problems of Wales?

Coming as I do from rural Wales, I am fully aware of the problems of living there. But I am sure that some of these points will be fully adumbrated in today's debate.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one lesson to be learned from the outcry over the recent relatively modest increase in petrol prices is that there is now no chance whatsoever of replacing the vehicle excise duty by an increase on petrol and that, therefore, one effect of that will be that employment at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre is secure?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House after his recent illness. I am sure that the welcome he has given to this proposal will be widely echoed in his area, which is an important source of employment for the Swansea Valley. I take great pride in having been one of those who sited the centre there.

If the Secretary of State is aware of the effect that this increase will have on rural areas, will he press the Chancellor very hard indeed, if the measure passes tonight, between now and the Finance Bill debates to ensure that an amendment comes forward to reduce the catastrophic effect that this increase in the price of petrol will have in rural areas, not only on personal transport costs, when people perhaps have to travel 40 miles each way to work, but also on the prospect of bringing new factories to areas such as the Caernarvon area, where transport costs are a disproportionate part of the total revenue?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be putting such viewpoints forcibly if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, either today or in the course of the debates on the Finance Bill.

We are always interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views. How does he justify the doubling of the petrol tax since 1974 in view of its effect on the economy of rural Wales?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman or some of his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will want to put those points in the course of the debate this afternoon. But what is important is that we are doing, and have done, much more for Mid-Wales and for rural Wales than the Tory Government ever did. How will the hon. Gentleman explain after being a member of a party that killed off the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) for Mid-Wales and did nothing at all in the four wasted years afterwards?