§ 2. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)
What recent representations he has received on the impact of taxation on petrol on transport in Scottish rural areas. 
§ 7. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
If he will make a statement on the impact of vehicle fuel duties on the rural economy in Scotland. 
§ The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)
I am in regular contact with all sections of the community in rural Scotland on a broad range of issues, including taxation on fuel.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Minister will be aware of the price of fuel in the highlands and islands which, at £ 4 a gallon, is an impediment to business and tourism. However, does he welcome the decision of Gleaner Oils to introduce LPG—liquefied petroleum gas—which costs half as much as ordinary fuel, into more than 20 filling stations in the highlands and islands over the next year? Does the Minister share my enthusiasm about LPG, and recognise that the next step involves, first, changing the conversion scheme to include older cars and, secondly, encouraging car manufacturers to build more dual-fuel vehicles? We will then have a low-emission, low-cost fuel that is available to a new generation of rural motorists.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am very enthusiastic about LPG, which carries with it the best hope of not just tinkering with the present situation but transforming it. It offers the glittering prize of changing the highlands and islands from the highest-cost road fuel area in the United Kingdom into 884 the lowest-cost area. We can achieve that if we expand the availability of LPG. I am having very promising discussions about a major expansion of LPG availability in the highlands and islands, which would put the area into the forefront of access to the fuel in the UK. I am very much in line with my hon. Friend on that.
§ Miss McIntosh
Is the Minister aware that Scotland is still a major oil producer and has the second cheapest pre-tax oil prices in the European Union? However, post-tax, those prices are 23 per cent. higher than the EU average. Is the Minister also aware that last year the Highlands regional council did a study that showed that tanking up in the highlands and islands was £4.30 more expensive than in the rest of Scotland? Is it the Government's policy to price the car off the road in rural parts of Scotland?
§ Mr. Wilson
No, that is not our policy. As always in our debates, the hon. Lady's question suffers from her selective use of facts and statistics. She is right about the taxation burden on petrol, although her remarks are a bit rich coming from an Opposition Member, as it was the Tories, of course, who introduced the fuel duty escalator.
The hon. Lady did not mention other taxes on motorists which transform the picture across Europe, if one takes into account the whole burden of motoring taxation, not just petrol taxation. Is the hon. Lady proposing that there should be a purchase tax of £4, 000 a car, as in Norway, or that road tax should be £720, as in the Netherlands? The whole picture has to be looked at and, in the highlands and islands, we are working on reducing differentials, supporting rural filling stations, supporting the initiative on bulk buying in remote communities and, of course, working on the LPG initiative. That is all constructive stuff which will bring benefit to the highlands.
§ Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)
Will my hon. Friend take care when others are trying to persuade him of the need for conversion to liquefied petroleum gas? We must first introduce proper regulation to keep the cowboys out of the conversion market. I have a constituent from Netherburn near Larkhall whose child was nearly gassed in the back of his car, but he cannot get compensation because there is not sufficient regulation to protect car drivers who choose to convert to LPG.
§ Mr. Wilson
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I am sure he will pursue with his usual vigour. It does not detract from the overall point that LPG offers a major opportunity to transform motoring costs, and I urge people in the highlands and islands and other areas with LPG availability, particularly those who are buying a new car, seriously to consider purchasing a dual-fuel car.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
Madam Speaker, may I first associate Conservative Members with the remarks made by the Secretary of State at the beginning of Question Time in respect of your presiding over our turbulence?
In reply to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), the Minister said that other factors should be considered in relation to the cost of transport in the highlands. Yet he knows that we have the highest heavy goods vehicle licence fees in 885 Europe, on top of the fuel taxes and the fuel escalator that his Government have raised. The situation is so bad that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) has had to introduce, through the Highland transport authority, an initiative for bulk buying petrol to try to reduce its price by 10p in the pound, although that is only a small component of the tax that the Government take. When will the Government wake up to the extent to which their taxation is bleeding the economy of rural areas in Scotland white?
§ Mr. Wilson
We enter the realms of the bizarre when a Tory spokesman assails us on the cost of petrol. The Tories, doubtless for what they saw as good reasons, introduced the fuel duty escalator; the Labour Government got rid of it. As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, of the last 19p increase in the cost of petrol 17p per litre has come from the rise in the world price of oil, which in other ways is beneficial to the UK economy. Let us have some honesty on all points in the debate. We have listed our initiatives, and I am happy to associate myself with the creative thinking of my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on bulk buying—that is what a good MP does, instead of bleating about things and trying to make political capital out of them.
§ Mr. Grieve
The Minister cannot get away with it. The Government have been indulging in the most extraordinary creative thinking to get themselves off the hook. First, they told us that the fuel duty escalator was all about changing our driving habits, which is a useless policy to present to the population of the highlands and islands. Recently, the Prime Minister has been telling us that the taxes are vital to pay for public services, but we in the House know the reality. In the Chancellor's constituency of Dunfermline, East—which is not exactly a hotbed of Conservatives or conservatism—43 per cent. of those polled consider that taxation has risen under this Government, and only 12 per cent. feel that they have received any benefit in the way of services for the price that they have had to pay.
§ Mr. Wilson
I can only describe that as unconvincing bluster. Let us establish the facts: the Tories introduced the fuel duty escalator; Labour has abolished it. That is an inescapable fact. Any hon. Member who says that we should cut fuel duty has to say where the money to do so will come from. Let us not forget that every one of the parties represented in the Chamber supported the fuel duty escalator in one way or another: the Tories introduced it, the Liberal Democrats wanted to increase it, and the nationalists based their budget projections on it. Where is the argument?