Pressure mounting for action on fuel costs

MOTORISTS were last night optimistically looking to a future of more stable fuel prices as ministers came under pressure to ease the burden of high fuel costs after MPs approved a motion calling for action on high pump prices.

The move, triggered by consumer pressure, came amid reports the UK government was reconsidering a 3p hike in fuel duty due in January.

The back-bench motion, tabled by Tory Robert Halfon, was approved without a vote after Prime Minister David Cameron gave his back-benchers freedom to support it. More than 100 MPs – including 83 Tories and five Liberal Democrats – had signed it in advance.

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The motion called on ministers to consider a “price stabilisation mechanism” that would work alongside George Osborne’s fair fuel stabiliser to “address fluctuations in the pump price”. The debate had been prompted by an e-petition signed by more than 100,000 people.

But with the 3p rise in duty just two months away, Harlow MP Mr Halfon went further in his speech and called on ministers to abandon the planned increase.

He said: “We must show that tax cutting is a moral creed, we must show this is a government for the many and not the few, a government that cuts taxes for millions of British people and not just for millionaires.”

Earlier, Mr Cameron’s official spokesman had 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.”

With scores of Tory MPs signed up in support of the motion, Mr Cameron avoided a revolt by opting for only a single-line whip, which informs MPs of the government’s position but does not instruct them which way they should vote.

The fuel price stabiliser would ease variations in price so taxes go up as the price of fuel falls and are cut as the price of oil rises.

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

He said sales of petrol and diesel have been falling since 2008 because it is so expensive, denying the Treasury tax revenue.

“Adjusted for inflation, motoring fuel has never been this expensive, except for twice in history during historic crises of supply,” said Mr Halfon.

“This is being driven by high taxes and we have to be realistic and truthful about who pays the lion’s share of fuel duty.

“It’s ordinary families driving to work, it’s mums taking their children to school, it’s small businesses who can’t afford to drive a van or their lorry, it’s non-motorists who depend on buses who are also being crushed by rocketing food prices as the cost of road haulage goes through the roof.”

He said taxes on diesel and petrol were levies on “hard-working, vulnerable Britons”. Mr Halfon demanded more openness from oil companies and called on the government to press the multinationals to drive down pump prices, pointing out the cost of Brent crude had fallen by 20 per cent since April.

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.”

Labour’s Albert Owen said the government needed to reduce the VAT faced by motorists as this would stimulate the economy. He said: “The economy is flat-lining and in areas like mine people are paying extra for energy costs and fuel and we need to do something about it.”

His Labour colleague Russell Brown, whose seat is in Dumfries and Galloway, said there was increasing difference between the price of diesel and unleaded petrol which had risen from 2p or 3p a litre, to 6p or 7p a litre.

He added: “I have some people in remote areas who have discovered that to get to work has become far too costly.”