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13 November 2012, 05:51
The Government has hinted that a planned fuel duty rise could be axed as ministers saw off a Labour call for the 3p increase in January to be abandoned.
Treasury Economic Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government understood the pressures facing households and was "determined'' to help with the cost of living.
The Mp for Harlow, Robert Halfon, who is also a prominent campaigner on fuel duty, resisted the chance to back Labour's call for a freeze because he believed ministers were in "listening mode'' on the issue ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement next month.
"I believe it is perfectly sensible and right to wait for the autumn statement, given the Government's record, given that they cut fuel duty last year and given that they have stopped two fuel duty rises,''
Mr Halfon told the Commons. In a reference to the home of Second World War codebreakers, the Harlow MP added: "You don't have to work at Bletchley Park to read the signals that the Treasury is sending out about giving help with the cost of living.''
Labour's call to delay the tax hike until at least next April was defeated by 282 votes to 234, a Government majority of 48.
Tory MPs appeared to have ignored shadow chancellor Ed Balls' call for them not to accept the "nods and winks'' from Mr Osborne on the issue but to instead back Labour's call to insist on the rise being delayed.
Mr Javid told the Commons: "The Government is doing all it can to help hard-working families with the cost of living and putting money back into their pockets.
"Action on fuel duty is part of this. Fuel duty is currently 20% lower in real terms compared to its peak in March 2000 and 7% lower compared to May 2010.
"If we had continued with the policies of the previous government, quite simply prices would be higher, fuel would be 10p more expensive per litre.
"I know some will call for a further freeze in fuel duty today. I can assure them this Government understands the financial pressures hard-working families are facing.
"Subject to the constraints of the public finances, this Government is determined to help families with the cost of living.''
Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said the Government has always tried to "listen to the concerns of motorists'' on the affordability of any duty hikes.
The spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: "There are a series of planned rises in fuel taxes programmed in and those will generate revenue which will help bring the deficit down.
"But what the Government has sought to do thus far is listen to the concerns of motorists and, where it can, delay or cancel those planned rises.''
Opening the debate for Labour, shadow economic secretary Cathy Jamieson said the fragile state of the economy meant it was "exactly the wrong time to hike fuel costs''. She said: "In the here and now petrol is 15p a litre higher than at the general election, it's 5p a litre higher than in the summer when the Government last deferred a rise, and let's remember that the Chancellor took that decision following pressure from this side of the House.''
Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "Families that rely on cars to earn the daily bread, get the kids to school and the house stocked up live in fear of pump price rises tipping precarious budgets over the edge.
"For that reason alone, the need to put January's fuel duty rise on hold is blindingly obvious.
"The defeated motion ramps up uncertainty among families trying to afford a decent Christmas but facing the threat of nearly £2 a tank more for petrol and diesel in the new year.''