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Road Equivalent Tariff (Scottish Islands)

Volume 24: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further progress he is able to report on the introduction of a road equivalent tariff for the Scottish Islands.

My right hon. Friend has further increased assistance to Scottish shipping services in this financial year to £10·6 million. This increased support continues the move towards road equivalent tariff.

With respect to the Minister, that is not a reply. I should like to know whether the idea of road equivalent tariff, which was strongly backed by the Highlands and Islands Development Board and espoused by the Conservatives when they were in Opposition, before the general election, will be introduced. Have the Government abandoned their attempt to introduce that rational system?

Certainly not. I hope to announce decisions on changes in time for implementation in the financial year 1983–84. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that such a radical change needs careful consideration. I think that most people attach the greatest importance to overall financial assistance to sea transport. That has increased from £5·1 million in 1979–80 to 10·6 million in 1982–83.

I acknowledge the assistance that the Government have given to shipping on the West Coast of Scotland, but does the Minister recall that the Conservative Party made a firm election commitment to move towards a system of road equivalent tariff? As three years have passed, is it not about time that the scheme was introduced?

The Conservative Party said in its Scottish manifesto:

"We will re-examine the structure of the subsidies and are prepared to increase them in real terms as part of the process of moving closer to Broad Equivalent Tariffs".
That is precisely what we have done and are doing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that people who choose to live on the islands should not be disadvantaged because of that choice? When RET is introduced, it should be in respect of freight, people who live on the islands and tourists.