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MSPs push for rural fuel cost cut

30 April 09 18:18 GMT

A Liberal Democrat motion calling for pressure to be put on UK ministers to cut petrol prices in rural communities, has been backed by MSPs at Holyrood.

The party wants Westminster to make use of an EU law that allows duty to be cut by up to 2.4p a litre in remote areas.

Other countries have used the power, including France, Greece and Portugal.

The Scottish Government will now be expected to press for action at Westminster before the final passage of the UK Finance Bill.

The Lib Dems published a survey which indicated that rural areas faced a 10-12% premium in fuel prices.

Liam McArthur, Lib Dem MSP for Orkney, said the EU energy products directive allowed member states to apply reduced fuel duty rates in particular regions.

"On this basis, France, Greece and Portugal operate derogations for their remote and island areas," he said.

"Inexplicably while the UK Government has supported this approach in these member states, it has resisted any attempt to introduce such a scheme in any part of the UK.

"Each time my Liberal Democrats colleagues at Westminster have put forward an amendment to the Finance Bill calling for such a derogation for remote rural areas in Scotland, it has been voted down by Labour and Tory MPs."

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson backed the Lib Dem motion.

He said: "We've carried out initial work on how derogation might apply in Scotland, we're continuing to look at options to go some way to offset current differentials.

"But the UK Government, I'm afraid, is remarkably intransigent and inflexible in considering options."

Tory Alex Johnstone said rising fuel prices had led to an increase in the cost of running a business or any sort of vehicle in rural Scotland.

He reminded MSPs that the issue affected all of Scotland's rural areas - not just island communities.

Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald backed Chancellor Alistair Darling's decision not to use changes in fuel duty, and instead he urged Scottish ministers to focus on the "cause of discriminatory prices" set by fuel suppliers.

The motion was backed by 63 votes to one with 57 abstentions.

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