As a result of Government actions on fuel duty, from April average pump prices will be 13p per litre lower than if we had implemented the previous Government’s plan to squeeze motorists, and will remain at least 10p per litre lower over the remainder of the Parliament, giving real help to millions of families and small businesses.
I certainly welcome the efforts that the coalition Government have already made, but with the price of fuel now once again nudging £1.50 per litre in some places, does my right hon. Friend recognise the anxiety that the continuing prospect of rises in fuel duty causes people in rural parts of Wiltshire, as much as in the highlands of Scotland, who find themselves with little alternative to running a car?
As my hon. Friend knows, as a fellow rural MP I fully understand the pressures he describes, which is why we have taken the action I set out in my previous answer. He will also know that the pressures on the public finances remain substantial. I would remind him and the House that 25 million working people in this country will see the largest ever increase in their income tax personal allowance, meaning that the income tax cuts delivered by this Government will amount to £50 a month from April.
One of the biggest hits on petrol prices has been the VAT increase. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) is absolutely right that there are now record prices at the pumps. Will the Minister consider temporarily lowering the VAT rate, to help hard-working families across the country?
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not sure that he has reflected upon the substantial fuel duty escalator that was baked into the public finances when his party was in office. We have dealt with those increases on a case-by-case basis and reduced fuel duty by a penny. I think that is the right action to support motorists, families and small businesses alike.
But surely the Minister cannot run away from the fact that the largest single increase in fuel prices at the pumps was the VAT increase. Also, over the past two weeks the weakening pound has driven up prices at the pumps. That needs to be seriously considered.
I do not run away from any of the decisions the Government have made, and the hon. Gentleman should not run away from the fact that the ratchet on fuel prices planned by his party in the last Parliament, which was baked into the public finances, would have dwarfed the increase to which he refers.
Turning to the other escalator, the nonsensical beer duty escalator, I can give my right hon. Friend good news: there are now around 1,000 breweries in this country, the highest number for 70 years, because of the explosion in micro-breweries due to fairer and lower beer duty. Now that the Government are rightly going to tackle overcharging by the pub companies, which will allow more access to market for the wonderful micro-breweries, may we also have some joined-up thinking with the abolition in the Budget of the beer duty escalator, which simply does not make sense?
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s admiration for micro-breweries: one in my constituency has recently produced a beer called Ginger Rodent, which sold out in its first run. I look forward to more sales when it is in the House of Commons bar in June. As for the rest of his question, I take it as a Budget representation.