Backbench revolt on fuel price rise quelled by hints of help for motorists

Tory MPs had been expected to join Labour in calling for Chancellor to delay fuel duty rise

Drivers could benefit in next month's Autumn Statement, it emerged, as the Chancellor headed off the threat of a Commons defeat over the price of petrol.

Several Tory backbenchers had been expected to back a Labour motion today calling for a 3p -a-litre rise in fuel duty scheduled for 1 January to be delayed for three months.

But the threat of a rebellion receded last night following well-placed hints that George Osborne will soon reveal extra help for motorists .

Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs will now combine to block the motion, leaving the Chancellor with a free hand to make his own announcement in the Autumn Statement on 5 December.

Robert Halfon, the Tory MP who has been leading a campaign against the planned increase, told The Independent: "When I first heard about the motion I was going to support it, but I have had various conversations and I genuinely believe that Mr Osborne is in strong listening mode so I'm not, as a Tory, going to help Ed Balls knife the Government. You might get one or two Tories voting with Labour, but not many.

"If you look at his motion, it is only to freeze the duty for three months. The Government has talked about lowering the cost of living. If the Autumn Statement has nothing in it and the fuel duty rise goes ahead, then I'll go public and really make a stink. I wouldn't vote with the Government if I didn't genuinely believe they're listening."

The planned increase, which would mean almost 60p out of every pound spent at the pumps went to the Treasury, was scheduled to come into effect in August, but was put back for five months by the Chancellor after opposition from road user groups.

The consumer group Which? called yesterday for the rise to be postponed after an opinion poll suggested that 39 per cent would be forced to cut back on motoring costs.

The organisation's executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Rising fuel prices are the No 1 consumer worry and people are already telling us they're having to cut back and dip into savings just to get by. The forthcoming Autumn Statement must focus on measures that will help put money back in the pockets of consumers."

But the transport charity Sustrans warned that abandoning the fuel duty rise would increase the gap between the poorest in society, who cannot afford to drive, and the majority who can. They argued for the income from fuel duty to be invested in cheap transport.

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