I am extremely pleased that the Backbench Business Committee has decided to allow the Fair Fuel e-petition to be debated today. The speed at which the e-petition attained 100,000 signatures shows just how important fuel prices are to the public, and the granting of this debate also shows that Parliament is willing to listen to and engage with public priorities.
I, along with 115 of my colleagues have happily signed the motion, showing our support for the work that the government has already done on stabilising and reducing fuel costs and calling on them to continue pushing to keep fuel prices down.
Sadly under the last government motorists were seen as a soft touch, a never ending cash-cow that could be squeezed and squeezed for an ever larger slice of the price they paid at the fuel pump.
When Labour came to power in 1997 Fuel duty on unleaded petrol stood at 36.86p per litre, but had increased by an incredible 55% to 57.19p a litre when they left office.
Yet despite taking an ever large percentage of a family’s fuel cost they still left us with an economy borrowing £1 of every £4 we spent and paying out £120m a day in interest on that borrowing. It is against this backdrop of an economy built on debt, and a subsequent global debt crisis that we have to tackle high fuel prices.
It’s vital that we deliver on our deficit reduction plans, that we maintain the confidence of the markets and as a result keep the cost of borrowing down, not just for the UK government, but also for consumers and businesses.
Within the framework of reducing the deficit the Government has already taken significant action on fuel costs. We have scrapped the fuel tax escalator, which would have increased fuel duty by almost 5p in April 2011 and also cut fuel duty by 1 pence in April. These changes alone will collectively save motorists £9.4bn by 2015, roughly £300 per driver.
In fact under this government the total tax take, including VAT, on a litre of petrol has fallen, from 81p in 2001 to 66p today.
Sadly though fuel prices haven’t fallen at the same rate. International oil prices peaked in late April, and although they and fuel duties have now dropped, we are still seeing high prices at the pumps. Like my colleagues and I, the Government wants to see falls in oil prices passed on to consumers and businesses and have pointed out that suspected infringements of competition law are a matter for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate.
Reports from motoring organisations that some households are currently paying a tenth of their income on petrol is very disappointing and clearly something that must be looked at further.
I am looking forward to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement at the end of this month, and know that he is very aware of the impact of the high cost of fuel on families, business and the economy. I am sure that if, within the context of our deficit reduction strategy, he can take action on high fuel prices he will do, but keeping our deficit under control must remain our number one priority.
Unfortunately I have a long standing commitment today to represent British interests at an overseas conference and am unable to attend the debate. However, as I hope I have made clear, I am fully supportive of the motion, and understand the concerns that signatories to the Fair Fuel UK e-petition have regarding the continued high cost of fuel.