MPs step up pressure on fuel duty


Ministers came under pressure from the Commons tonight to take action to hold down fuel prices.

MPs called on the Government to scrap fuel duty rises planned for next year and nodded through a motion calling for a new price stabilisation mechanism.

More than 100 MPs - including 83 Tories and five Liberal Democrats - had signed the motion in advance.

But Prime Minister David Cameron averted any prospect of a backbench rebellion by imposing only a one-line whip, meaning Tories were free to vote how they pleased.

At the end of a Commons debate triggered by an e-petition which attracted more than 100,000 signatures, the motion was carried this evening without a vote.

Earlier, reports emerged that ministers were reconsidering a 3p duty hike pencilled in for January.

Mr Cameron's official spokesman said any change in tax policy would be announced in the Budget, but stressed: "We recognise as a Government that motoring is an essential part of everyday life for many families and fuel is a significant cost for those families."

Treasury minister David Gauke said fuel duty rises could only be avoided by finding money from other areas.

Mr Gauke told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "Of course we will listen to these concerns, but there isn't an easy answer to this, there isn't some great pot of money.

"We are going to have to take difficult decisions to get the deficit down, but within that we have shown sensitivity to the needs of motorists."

Today's motion, tabled by Conservative MP Robert Halfon, called on ministers to consider a fuel price stabiliser to operate alongside Chancellor George Osborne's fair fuel stabiliser introduced in the Budget.

Supporters included such prominent Tories as former leadership contender David Davis and Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, as well as a large number of MPs elected for the first time last year.

Opening the debate, Mr Halfon said: "Fuel duty is not just about economics, it's an issue of social justice and this is especially true in rural communities which are being destroyed by fuel prices.

"There is a strong case for cutting fuel taxes - financial, economic and social - and that's why we are urging the Government to scrap the planned 4p fuel duty increases which are scheduled for January and August 2012."

He said a fuel price stabiliser should be used to ease variations in price so taxes go up as the price of fuel falls and are cut as the price of oil rises.

He said the effect should mean more consistent pricing with fewer peaks.

Adrian Tink, RAC Motoring Strategist, said: "Three themes clearly emerged from today's debate on the soaring cost of fuel: families are suffering, businesses are suffering, and a reduction in prices is desperately needed.

"We also heard over and over again the particular pain that rural motorists are facing given the crippling combination of higher fuel prices and a lack of viable alternatives where they live.

"The pain isn't confined to just those living in the countryside though. Sky-high fuel prices are hurting all motorists, urban and rural, young and old. Social activities, family errands and even the daily commute are being questioned as the pump price ticks ever upwards.

"While the sentiments expressed in the chamber were welcome, we now need action. All eyes are now on the Chancellor to see if the message has finally got through. Families face yet more increases in fuel duty next year which will add another 6p a litre at the pumps.

"Without a reprieve, drivers will once more have to dig deep and find an extra £5 each time they fill up the tank. Families cannot keep reaching deeper into their pockets on such a regular basis.

"The Chancellor previously claimed that he wanted to put fuel in the tank of the British economy. Without a change in policy on November 29, he risks draining the tank for the foreseeable future."

In the Commons, Labour MP Nic Dakin claimed there was unanimity across the House that higher fuel prices were hitting people hard at a time when household budgets were being squeezed by rocketing energy prices and rising food prices.

He said: "It is now clear that the Government's decision to increase VAT to 20% in January, pushing up the price of petrol and the cost of living was a serious mistake."

Addressing claims that fewer car journeys were better for the atmosphere, Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron said: "This is no longer an issue of environmental concern, this is about social justice."

Shadow Treasury Minister Owen Smith said he echoed Mr Halfon's sentiments urging tax cuts for millions of hard pressed people not tax cuts for millionaires, adding: "On this side of the House we entirely agree with that sentiment, I'm not so sure about millionaires row at the front here, they may be less keen on it."

Economic Secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith said: "Even though average pump prices have fallen over the summer, there is little doubt that the cost of fuel remains a very difficult issue and it concerns many families and businesses across the country."

She added: "Now is not the day to try to change tax...that is the Budget, but today is to listen."