Fuel Prices Speech

Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to have the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Plaid Cymru and SNP group. Our combined parties have campaigned on this issue for a number of years, not least in tabling amendments to Finance Bills in 2005 and 2008. It is somewhat disappointing that, in our first Opposition day debate of the Session, we must once again highlight the need for Government intervention to stabilise fuel prices.
Fuel prices are driven by the global price of oil and by domestic taxation. In the case of global oil prices, the trajectory is likely to go in only one direction, as oil is a finite resource. It is already being traded at over $100 a barrel. As the world economy recovers, the price will rise further as a result of increasing demand, especially from the emerging countries and, in particular, China. Volatility will only be exacerbated as we reach peak oil. Oil prices will also inevitably increase as a result of the long-term deflationary policies of the United States Government. Oil is traded in dollars, and a weakening dollar pushes up oil prices as producer countries try to make up for the shortfall of a currency whose value lessens. I echo the call of the French President, Mr Sarkozy, for a long-term agreement between oil-producing and consumer countries to offer more stability on prices.
Fuel prices are obviously influenced by domestic taxation, and it is with that element that we are concerned today. Duty on fuel in the UK represents about 65% of the price of fuel at the pump, if my sums are correct. Clearly, the higher the price of wholesale oil, the higher the tax receipts raked in by the Treasury. As is shown by an excellent House of Commons Library research paper, petrol duty in the UK is the second highest in the European Union, and the duty on diesel is by far the highest. While most other countries impose different levels of duty on road petrol and diesel, the UK’s rates are exactly the same, which means that the UK’s diesel prices are far higher than those of our European partners.
There are three general reasons for the need for a mechanism to stabilise fuel prices via control of duty. First, the volatility of fuel prices has far-reaching social and economic consequences, and we therefore need a mechanism to dampen the peaks and troughs. Secondly-as we have heard in a number of notable speeches today-surges in prices have a disproportionate effect on some sectors of the economy, some sections of society, and some geographical parts of the state. Thirdly, green
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taxes must be linked to clear environmental criteria, because otherwise the public will believe they are just another cash cow and there will be a loss of support for environmental taxation. That would be a disaster, in view of the challenges that we face as a nation and, of course, throughout the world.
Let me stress that we are not arguing for the introduction of something new and untested. Many OECD countries have mechanisms to regulate the price of fuel. France has a fuel regulator, and Canada even has a regional fuel stabiliser. If we were to adopt a similar system in the United Kingdom, I should like to advance a special case for south-west Wales.
In adopting our policy following the Finance Act 2008, the Conservative party’s 2010 general election manifesto stated:
“We will consult on the introduction of a ‘Fair Fuel Stabiliser’. This would cut fuel duty when oil prices rise, and vice versa. It would ensure families and businesses and the whole British economy are less exposed to volatile oil markets, and that there is a more stable environment for low carbon investment.”
I could not agree more, and I look forward to the support of hon. Members who stood for election on the basis of that manifesto commitment when the House divides later this evening.
We have had a very interesting debate, featuring many positive and informative contributions. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), in his usual ultra-detailed opening remarks, made a comprehensive case for the need for a stabilising mechanism. I urge those who missed the beginning of the debate to read his speech, and I hope one day to be able to rival his knowledge of these matters. He made the specific point that rising fuel costs constituted a significant economic head wind. Given the recent deliberations about the Government’s lack of a growth strategy, I humbly suggest that that is one idea that they should fully embrace.
The Minister defended the Government’s position admirably by blaming the previous Administration, but while we welcomed her comments about the rural derogation pilot and look forward to further progress her suggestion that the devolved Governments could intervene to reduce the burden on families was somewhat weak. Much as I should like the Welsh Parliament to have the taxation powers that would enable it to intervene, this is a matter for the United Kingdom Government. They need to take the necessary responsibility and introduce proposals of their own, rather than blaming the previous Administration and placing the onus on the devolved Governments without giving them any power. That seems to have developed into a growing theme in recent months.
The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) confirmed that the Labour party opposes any stabilising mechanism. I am sure that colleagues who will fight Welsh Assembly elections and Scottish parliamentary elections in a few months’ time will remind electors of Labour’s policy.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) noted the problems that small companies-notably the haulage industry-face in his constituency.
As usual, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) spoke with great authority. He concentrated on the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises
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to the Welsh economy. I echo his views and look forward to his support in the Lobby later.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) highlighted the specific problems faced by communities in the Scottish islands, and I thank him for his contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) made a strong case for the food processing industry in her constituency. She discussed the added burden that that industry faces as a result of spikes in the price of oil.
The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) made a staunch defence of the Government’s position. We would welcome a derogation pilot in England, as he suggested, because if it worked in remote parts of England it would work in Wales and mainland Scotland, too.
Albert Owen: The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) is not in his seat, but he said that only areas with devolved Administrations have been proposed for the pilot. The Isles of Scilly are, as we all know, in England. Wales has been left out, but surely the Isle of Anglesey would be the ideal place to experiment with such a derogation.
Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. I am sure that the Assembly Member for his area, who is a member of my party, agrees with his comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) discussed how fuel prices in his constituency have reached the £1.50 a litre mark. Having visited his beautiful constituency last week as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I can inform my hon. Friend that his effort on that issue is appreciated.
The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) highlighted how the rising fuel price hinders economic growth, especially outside south-east England and in those sectors of the economy that the UK Government are depending on, if they are serious about their stated aim of rebalancing the economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mr Weir) highlighted the huge problems caused to small businesses in his constituency. He pointed out the impact on disposable income for working families in his valid contribution.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) made an informative speech. He made a powerful argument about changing the VAT rate for fuel, and I hope that Ministers will consider his ideas.
In their joint economic declaration last week, the devolved Administrations specifically called on the UK Government to take action to counteract rising fuel and transport costs. The Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all highlighted how rising fuel costs form a significant economic headwind that undermines efforts to rebuild after the recent downturn. The declaration called for the postponement of the proposed duty increase planned for April this year. I am sure that all the Celtic Governments support the need for a fuel duty stabiliser.

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In closing, I want to refer to those bodies that have contacted us to support our motion. We have received overwhelming support from many diverse organisations, such as the Farmers Union of Wales, NFU Cymru, the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Countryside Association. That diversity reflects our point that ordinary families, businesses and workers across the UK acutely feel the effects of volatile fuel prices, although rising fuel duty will inevitably hit rural communities hardest.
Gareth Vaughan, president of the FUW, has written to say how “grossly unfair” it is that we in the UK pay more than any other country for our fuel, because of the “extortionate level of tax” imposed by the UK Government. He added that
“bearing in mind that there is a difference of as much as five pence per litre between rural and city garages in Wales already, the added fuel duty coupled with rising oil prices will be devastating to rural communities all over the UK.”
Jack Semple, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, has stated:
“The Road Haulage Association welcomes Plaid’s and the SNP’s support for a fuel duty stabiliser”
since
“the volatility of fuel prices is a major issue for hauliers and, increasingly, for their customers.”
John Walker, the FSB’s national chairman, has also endorsed our approach, reminding us that
“Every extra penny spent at the pumps is a penny not being spent elsewhere in the economy…Small businesses want to grow…and create employment but the cost of fuel puts the brakes on their ability to drive the recovery.”
Finally, the FTA has stated:
“Lives and livelihoods up and down the country are suffering in the face of unsustainable and crippling fuel costs. This cost is unsustainable and…as part of the Fair Fuel UK Campaign, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association, along with backing from the RAC, are asking government principally to scrap the fuel duty rise planned in April and introduce a methodology for stabilising fuel prices.”
It is not only organisations and individuals outside this place who have backed our campaign. In introducing his plans for a fuel stabiliser in 2008, the then shadow Chancellor-the current Chancellor-described the stabiliser as
“a common sense plan to help families, bring stability to the public finances and help the environment by making the price of carbon less volatile”.
In the light of those comments, people across the UK will ask why his Government oppose our motion today.

2 Responses to “Fuel Prices Speech” [latest first]

  1. Yet another area where the Conservatives reliquish a manifesto promise. And they ask why the public is loosing faith in their government. Thank goodness for Plaid. Good job Mr Edwards.

  2. I am a director of a small company operating an aggregates company selling to builders, farmers and general public. Everything is transported on tipper lorries over a 100 mile radius.
    As a company, fuel prices affect us enormously especially as there is only so much you can pass on to the consumer in this competitive and ‘cash-strapped’ area.
    I think Jonathan Edwards has put his views over very eloquently and feel it is on our behalf as well as everyone living in the south west Wales area.
    Many thanks, Joy Jones.

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