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Mr. Clarke: I take my hon. Friend's point, but in view of the time, if he will forgive me I shall turn to another major issue that impacts on my constituency, and which Opposition Members may welcome my raisingroad haulage.
Earlier this month I received representations from the Road Haulage Association. Ms Glancey and Mr. Fraser visited my office and put their case with great clarity and
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firmness. They argued that the UK is the only country in the European Union to charge more tax on diesel than on petrol. Every time the price of diesel increases by 1p a litre it adds an average of £800 to the annual cost of running a heavy goods vehicle. They therefore want the Chancellor to abandon further increases in fuel dutyan increase was postponed from September to Novemberand introduce a temporary fuel duty de-escalator for diesel. Oil revenue income could be used to reduce the duty and compensate for the rising cost of fuel, the process being triggered when world prices exceed $50 a barrel.
I have already written to the Chancellor about the issue. Tomorrow we will learn in the pre-Budget report what he proposes to do about it and other critical matters. I expect that he will listen extremely carefully to representations, and will have something interesting to say. In that spirit, I congratulate the Government on the Queen's Speech. I welcome their proposals, which reflect reality in my constituency and beyond. They will help to build a progressive consensus, which is welcome in Scotland, throughout Britain and, I am sure, in Europe too.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In addressing the subject of the Queen's Speech and the economy, I shall dwell on a number of topics. In Northern Ireland over recent years it has been argued that if the economy were made more robust and there were significant investment, it would ensure that in areas where paramilitary groups have a vice-like grip on working class communities, their grip would be broken. I do not subscribe to that theory and have consistently warned against it. However, if that grip can be brokenand we hope that it can bethere is no doubt that a vibrant economy based on a peaceful democratic economic regime would assist local communities to build themselves and improve their local infrastructure. The Government should ensure that that can happen.
I shall return to the proposition that has been discussed in recent days with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There has been much media speculation in Northern Ireland in recent weeks about a regeneration fund. I know that discussions have taken place between the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Office, and my party and others have engaged in discussions in an effort to establish such a fund. It has been termed a peace fund. The term "peace" has been devalued in Northern Ireland down the years, because of overuse and because it has been applied when anything but peace existed, so I prefer to speak of a regeneration fund. Whatever it is called, it is important that the economy in Northern Ireland should receive as much assistance as it can.
The Northern Ireland economy has been suppressed for 35 years, principally because of the ongoing regime of violence and terror, the remnants of which we are still dealing with. Compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, salaries are lower than average, we have higher power and electricity prices, we have much worse deprivation levels and, correspondingly, we have
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significantly worse health and mortality rates across the population. It is essential that the regeneration fund is targeted at alleviating those problems.
Rob Marris: UK central Government funding per capita is already considerably higher in the Province. In round terms, 40 per cent. of the UK economy is the Government. In Northern Ireland the figure is 60 per cent.that is, 50 per cent. higher. How much more money does the hon. Gentleman want?
Mr. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening when I outlined some of the reasons why there is such deprivation in Northern Ireland. If other parts of the United Kingdom had been fighting a terrorist war for 35 years, they might well suffer in similar ways. Through the establishment of a regeneration fund, we are endeavouring to make the Northern Ireland economy lessnot moredependent on the public sector. If we get the type of funding that we are looking for, we can ensure that the private sector becomes much more active in Northern Ireland than it has been heretofore.
For example, tourism is one area in which we can make significant progress in a short time. Other parts of the United Kingdom have greater levels of tourism and experience higher spending per head of population. Again, that is because we are still coming to terms with the aftermath of 35 years of violence, but we hope that violence will come to an end. If we see a definitive end to violence, the tourism sector can take off in a few short years.
We have a magnificent product to sell. I represent one of the most beautiful coastlines in Northern Ireland. The principal resorts of Portrush, Portstewart and Downhill can take advantage of a significant influx of tourists, provided we have not only the product, but the marketing and expertise to drive up the spend and ensure that the number of people purchasing the product increases.
The other issue is the problems that have beset the manufacturing sector, which are not peculiar to Northern Ireland but have afflicted communities across the United Kingdom. The manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland has experienced a particular downturn. I concur with many of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) about small and medium-sized enterprises. If our economy gets a significant boost in the next few years, we can significantly increase the SME sector, which could take off as it has not done in the past.
The Government have funded Invest Northern Ireland, the agency responsible for delivering economic development, to a considerable degree in the two and a half years since its establishmentbut many of us are still not impressed by Invest Northern Ireland's results. The economy in Northern Ireland has become more buoyant, as has the economy across the United Kingdom, but I have tabled numerous written questions to try to establish how effective Invest Northern Ireland is at driving potential inward investors beyond the Greater Belfast area. Unfortunately, the answers have been minimal. It appears to many people in Northern Ireland that the body responsible for promoting the economy has a capital city mentality. Invest Northern
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Ireland does not get out beyond the motorway, and we must try to ensure that it does. It must address that point.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer could address this issue, and I have written to him on several occasions to try to get him to do so. In Northern Ireland, as in many other parts of the UK, the black economy is prevalent. Other hon. Members and I have lobbied for a significant increase in personal allowances. If, for example, personal allowances and the threshold at which individuals begin to pay national insurance were raised to £10,000 per annum, it would no longer be productive for any small employer to pay someone who is in the black economy and consistently draws benefits.
That would apply particularly to part-time employment. The part-time economy in Northern Ireland is buoyant, but if the black economy is prevalent, it is a drain on the social security budget. I hope that the Chancellor will reconsider the issue and raise personal allowances significantly above the rate of inflation. If we had, for example, that £10,000 per annum limit, part-time employees could earn £200 per week and pay no income tax or national insurance, and that would reduce the amount of regulation for small employers with such employees.
Mr. O'Neill: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest, but there is a certain inconsistency in his argument. He suggests radical changes in revenue raising, but equally wants large lumps of public expenditure to be devoted to one of the most disadvantaged parts of Britain. That equation does not work out. We have to increase revenue in order to have the resources to increase expenditure; otherwise we will end up like Bush's America, and that is not what we are after.
Mr. Campbell: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I shall return briefly to the issue that I was attempting to address. We are, I hope, emerging from 35 years of murder and violence, during which our economy has been depressed and resources that should have gone into our infrastructural capacity have been channelled and sidelined into fighting the war on terror. If those resources can be channelled into the infrastructuretourism and so onmany of us believe that that will of itself help to regenerate the private sector economy and make us less dependent on the resources that we get from the block grant.
I shall conclude by asking the Government to deal with the problem of financial institutions. Last month I tabled an early-day motion on the availability of free cash machinesATMsacross the United Kingdom. The fact that that EDM received the most signatures of any tabled in the past three years by a Northern Ireland Member of Parliament reflects the great level of concern. In the past six weeks, Nationwide building society has issued a report that concluded that UK financial institutions were charging personal account-holders £60 million to access their own money through ATMs. That is a disgrace. The Government should pressurise those financial institutions to display their charges clearly on ATMs to ensure that people, particularly in poor deprived areas, understand that
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they are being charged £1 or £1.50 to access their own money, even though in many cases they are taking out only £10 or £15.
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