Tax breaks upstage fuel protesters' big day out

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, upstaged the great fuel rally in London yesterday by revealing the details of concessions to hauliers that left their leaders declaring it to be a "substantial gift horse".

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, upstaged the great fuel rally in London yesterday by revealing the details of concessions to hauliers that left their leaders declaring it to be a "substantial gift horse".

While demonstrators from as far apart as Cardiff and Cleethorpes entered the capital, road transport organisations in talks with Mr Brown were taken aback by the size of rebates on tax discs that hauliers would receive.

The Chancellor had announced the outline of the initiative in his pre-Budget statement last week, but yesterday he spelt out precisely what it would mean for hauliers.

He told them they would receive a cheque for £2,710 before the end of the financial year for each 38-tonne articulated lorry they operate. Rebates would range from £150 to £4,625 for each vehicle. Theys would also receive similar discounts on their vehicle excise duty next year.

The Transport minister Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, who was also at the meeting, said the gesture constituted a "major benefit" to hauliers.

Roger King, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which supported the oilrefinery demonstrations in September, said he was disappointed that the Government had not reduced fuel duty, but added: "It would be churlish not to concede that the Government is putting large sums of money into the industry."

More than 350 protesters gathered at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park to restate demands for cheaper petrol and diesel as their 60-day deadline for government action passed.

Police turned a flyover on the A40 into a car park when more than 300 lorries, tractors and coaches travelled into London before mid-morning. But the capital remained unaffected by the campaigners as they were escorted by police to and from the centre of the city.

The long-awaited demonstration, billed by organisers as a venting of public rage by thousands at continued high fuel prices, amounted instead to a spirited but low-key gathering by a coalition of haulier, farmers, motorists and bemused onlookers.

John Pratt, a beef and sheep farmer from Brecon who leads Farmer for Action, criticised police controls on the rolling protests of recent days.

He said: "We have come here as part of our democratic right to protest but at times in the last few days it has felt like we lived in a police state. If this continues, I fear we are on the brink of civil unrest."

David Handley, the Monmouthshire farmer and leader of the People's Fuel Lobby, announced that he was standing down. He added: "I may be stepping aside but that does not mean the PFL is going away. We are going to take a break for a couple of weeks."

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