Campaign for lower fuel prices moves up a gear

Fuel pump Image copyright AFP
Image caption Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, feels the time is right to speak out on increases in fuel duty

The campaign for lower fuel prices is gearing up again. Robert Halfon's debate at Westminster is so well attended that he can hardly get a word in edgeways.

"Families in my constituency spend more on petrol than on food," he told the crowd in Westminster Hall. "It costs more than £1.40p a litre and that hits the poor twice as hard as the rich.

"People say the price has come down but it is a bit like a burglar taking £100 out of your pocket and giving you £5 back," he added.

With a 3p duty increase due in August, Mr Halfon feels now is the time to speak out again. He quoted figures from the AA, which claims the duty rise will switch £1.8m a day out of the economy and into petrol costs.

He also reminded the government that according to another report from the RAC, motoring taxes would fall by around £10bn over the next decade as people were driven off the road.

Mr Halfon called for a windfall tax on the oil companies (as opposed to just the North Sea oil companies, which the chancellor announced last year) to fund a fuel duty cut.

"The big oil companies are not struggling. In the first quarter of this year Shell had profits of $7.6bn, BP $5.9bn and Exxon Mobil $9.4bn," he said while calling for an investigation into whether the fuel companies were deliberately keeping oil prices high.

Mr Halfon questioned why: "Pump prices are always quick to rise but it feels like a court order is needed to get them down."

He was applauded at the end of his speech. So many MPs wanted to speak in this short debate that he was often interrupted before he had finished his sentences.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) reminded the hall the tourism industry was also heavily affected by high fuel prices. "If fewer people are able to afford to travel [to our resorts] there is a knock-on effect on our economy."

It fell to Norwich MP and Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith, to reply on behalf on the government. She agreed high fuel prices hurt but didn't offer anything new.

"The government has listened to motorists," she said. "Duty at the pumps has been frozen for 16 months and pump prices are now 10p lower thanks to this government's actions."

She said there was a review under way into the possible reform of Vehicle Excise Duty. When it came to the competitiveness of the oil market, she added the Office of Fair Trading was undertaking a review of pump prices in Scotland but a cut in duty this August seemed out of the question.

Many MPs accept a cut in duty is only a short-term solution to what has become a long-term problem.

"The trouble is that we take 1p off fuel one day and the next day the oil companies add it to the price, we need to come up with a new way of pricing fuel," one MP later told me.

For now Mr Halfon will keep his campaign going

A new online petition has been launched and he's planning to speak on the subject extensively over the next few months in the hope - albeit a distant hope - the government will once again change its mind.