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Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Should the government act over the petrol protests?
Blockades by UK farmers, lorry drivers and now fishermen have caused chaos on some roads and panic at the pumps.
Spurred on by similar action in France, British fuel price activists are confident they will win concessions from the UK Government.
But Chancellor Gordon Brown says he will not budge on the amount of tax charged per litre, despite it being the highest in Europe.
Do you think it's down to the government to lower taxes? Are the protestors just aggravating the situation?
We have closed this debate, but there are plenty of others about the fuel crisis on our Talking Point index. And remember, you can share your views on this issue this Sunday on our live radio phone-in programme, at 1400 GMT on World Service radio.
We have had over 10,000 e-mails on this subject Click here to read a selection of the best ones.
Gary Packer, England
Petrol is cheap so hit the blockaders hard. If the tanker drivers won't shift the fuel, sack them. Use the army. Why should we be held to ransom?
The moment I see "two-Jags" Prescott dumping his cars, I'll do the same. Quite safe there then...
Not only should the Government not change over petrol taxation, but in fact they ought to raise it. I have done without a car for 23 years. Life is very easy without a car and a lot cheaper and less stressful as well
I wholeheartedly support the initiatives of those who started the blockade, and praise their non-violent methods. Fuel prices affect everyone and high taxation must be seen to be justified by extra public spending. This has not been the case.
For those who are fortunate enough to be able to walk or cycle to work and dislike the internal combustion engine I urge you to lobby for an alternative - electric or dual fuel vehicles, and a cheap and reliable public transport system.
I am 100% behind this protest even though my car is completely empty of fuel. The British people are getting fed up with constantly being ripped off. They can throw millions away on foolish ventures, but deep down no government has the needs of the people at heart, only themselves. Wake up Tony before it's too late.
Tony Blair says he will not make tax structure changes this afternoon because of blockades this morning. A fine attitude in a jingoistic 'this man is not for turning' sort of way, but slightly anti-democratic perhaps? If a million people were to demand action would he act? Twenty million? Thirty million? Wouldn't that be spookily like real democracy? I mean God forbid the people of the country should occasionally know best!
As a small haulier in West Wales
we are finding it more and more
difficult to stay profitable when
large sections of UK work is
being undertaken by foreign hauliers
who are using the massive
differences in fuel price, road tax
and other operating costs, to take
our traditional work from us.
We are not asking for anything more
than parity with our neighbours in the EU.
I am a disabled driver and am angry at the fuel dispute and the Government's attitude to the people of this country. Thinking if I can afford to go out on a journey has now become part of my weekly budget. So much for the very good Motability scheme. How much freedom of the road is this Government going to allow disabled people?
Paul Leake, UK
Soon we shall see the heavy hand of the law drag these protests aside. This will be a sad day for democracy. The images the world will see on TV will portray our country not as a democracy, more a dictatorship.
People always remark about how much cheaper it is to buy petrol in the United States. But the US is the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon emissions, contributing to almost half of the world's greenhouse gases. The use of petroleum has a price and the one we pay is a fair one. It doesn't matter who the money goes to, the point is that we realise we can't rely on oil forever. Think!
I think that if this Government wishes to continue with any hope of success in the next election then it should listen to the general public of this country. After all we put them where they are today and we can REMOVE them just as easy!
I think a point is being missed in this debate. If lorry drivers and the already heavily-subsidised farmers are acting to deprive us of fuel - and I do not think the taxation is unfair - then find out who these people are and start blockading them
E. Aitch, Kent, UK
The Government must stand firm at all costs. This is bully-boy tactics by a section of the community who want their own interests advanced, and think they have the muscle to do it. Nothing to do with democracy, everything to do with brute power. Since the law is being broken (and it's a democratic law) there is every justification for breaking the blockade.
If Blair want us to leave our cars at home, why does he spent the tax money on the Dome and not on Public Transport??
Why are the Oil companies complicit in this protest?
Ask yourselves that before taking sides based on greed. Tax is, after all, one of the two certainties of life.
James Kirkland, Scotland
The Conservatives made the same mistake with the poll tax and only u-turned in the wake of public protest. I feel that we all should lend our support to the current protests and call for a national day of action. When will the government learn we elect them to support our best interests not line their pockets?
Personally, I think it would be a good idea for Mr Blair to read every single one of these comments that have been put forward, it might make him realise that the majority feel the same way - we are being ripped off. He isn't making himself or his party very popular for the next election.
The people of the UK are suffering because they WANT to believe they can have public spending without taxation. Now we've realised our mistake, we're upset.
Instead of making promises they couldn't keep the government should have been honest about how we would be taxed before they were elected. And the electorate should have been more realistic.
Paul Heathcote, UK
These people who are protesting voted Tony and his cronies in. If they don't like his policies they should use democratic means to remove them - not inconvenience the sick and vulnerable, to say nothing of the rest of us.
If the average car user does 12000 miles a year at say 10p per mile, then the tax take is about £900 a year.
For someone on £9000pa that's 10% of gross, for someone on £18000 that's 5% and for someone on £45000 is only 1%.
Russell Jones, UK
Gordon Brown should stand down over this mess. At least Mrs Thatcher had the decency to do so (albeit under pressure from colleagues) after the poll tax riots. I think these fuel tax protests have come not one second too soon.
Scotland is the oil capital of Europe - producing more oil than Kuwait, yet we have the most expensive petrol in Europe.
Bill Holland, England
As a pedestrian, I am looking forward to being able to walk to work in the morning without having to choke on exhaust fumes.
At last the spotlight is well and truly on the disgusting way the British motorist has been treated. We have been taxed to the limit and now we know by how much.
Blair and his cronies would do well to realise that those who voted them in are the ones who are hammered every time they fill up with petrol.
Just because a relatively small group of people has big tractors and big trucks, they can bring the nation to its knees. This is schoolyard bullying, pure and simple.
It is up to the protesters to stop the blockades and talk. You don't go into a debating chamber with hostages, so put aside your threats and talk out a much-needed deal.
Members of the public should support those protesting and come together as a Nation to make the government see some sense and lower the rate of tax on fuel. If nothing is done now the prices will just continue to rise. My car like many others is essential to travel to work ( a journey of 50 miles each way) as a teacher in a secondary school. I praise those who are standing up for the British public. It's about time we got a fair deal from this labour government who promised no increases in tax!! KEEP UP THE BLOCKADES...
Reducing the cost of fuel - in fact - will only save the average motorist a few pounds each year. It would hardly be noticed. Pressure should be brought to bear on OPEC by our government to reduce the cost of oil at source. That is the answer to the current "crisis". In the meantime, the country should not be held to ransom, the government should not be pressurised into a quick solution and, if necessary, the troops should be called upon to break the picketing and transport fuel to all the nation.
The government needs to understand the depth of feeling about the fuel price issue. This one will not go away, we've had recognition of excessive new car prices compared with Europe now it's the turn of petrol. What next?
I'm been short of fuel and stuck in the jams, but I still support the action. The fuel tax has little to do with saving the environment since public transport has to pass on the price of IT'S fuel to the traveller too.
Andy Tunnicliffe, UK
How can the government justify spending over 40 million on a dome that no one ever goes to and then they decide to cripple the every day person who is trying to make a living. The government say that the extra rise in petrol costs is for education and the NHS, then how come we haven't seen any improvements in them?
Motoring is taxed as a luxury - it certainly is not that for most rural areas, it is a vital everyday resource. Those (including the government) who want to put the price up to reduce car use obviously live in urban areas with good public transport services. They simply do not understand the impact of higher fuel costs on rural areas (and frankly, do not seem to care either).
We should lower price by dropping the tax level by 10p per litre.
Either cut defence spending or some other public spending.
Secondly, Government is always fearful about standing up to middle class interest groups. If these blockades had been mounted by a Trade Union in the course of a strike, the Police would have come down like a ton of bricks on Day One. Quite simply, the Government must not be held to ransom by this small group of unrepresentative farmers and truckers. If they continue to block roads and fuel depots they must be stopped and arrested (if necessary) in the best interest of the country
Dave Cass, London, England
The current taxation on fuel is fair in the sense that the people who use the most fuel pay the most tax. If tax on fuel is reduced it will result in taxes being put up elsewhere which will affect everybody.
The perception is that the tax on petrol is too high and that the revenue from the tax is not spent on public transport anyway. Tax policy should not be made by public protest but it would be a foolish politician who ignored such a strong message from the electorate
Blair has the power to lower fuel prices but MUST NOT yield in the face of pressure. This can only set a precedent for future demonstrations to change Government policy.
Maybe a few weeks of limited fuel will help the UK people think about car sharing, walking to work and making alternative travel arrangements. Better for the environment and better for the individual's health as well.
I just feel that we are missing the point on this one. It appears to me that both sides are wrong with regards their short term views. The point is that the hole in the ozone layer is getting bigger and we are attempting to make fuel consumption more attractive? Blair should not lower petrol prices, but use the funds to subsidise low cost public transport. If there was a perfect substitute to using the car, the government could justify the high cost fuel. If farmers and haulage firms fuels costs where subsidised as well the economy could expand at an attractive rate also.
The money ripped off us motorists is supposed to fund the health service. My use of the health service in recent years has proved it is shoddy and run by idiots.
Rather than doing the honest thing
and raise income taxes, the
government has tried to hide tax
raises through indirect taxation.
The protestors are finally raising
Witness their high-handed and authoritarian stance, ignoring what the majority of the British public (who elected them) wants. It is impractical to ask people to use public transport - those who do have often simply not tried to do so themselves! Until alternatives are available, people will have to use their cars!
T Franks, England
I am glad that the people in this country are making a stand against the EVER increasing price of fuel. Those who say we should use public transport instead of driving seem unaware of the state of the public transport system. The government say the revenue obtained from tax on fuel is used toward improving Education and the NHS but I have not seen any dramatic changes in either of these. At present, things are heating up fast so, why can't the government negotiate with the people involved and come to some form of compromise.
Are any laws being broken by the protestors? If so, send in the police and troops if necessary. We can't give in to them or every time somebody has a grudge they will do the same thing. We have to be taxed, if not on fuel then would people want to pay more income tax then? Or more VAT?
The PM cannot continue to keep his head in the sand and ignore the wishes of those people he serves and indeed elected him to this higher office.
Just to let Emma in the North West know, I'm in the South East and haven't been able to get any petrol for the last 36 hours. This is a national problem that we need a national solution for.
Am I the only person who is getting fed up with all the bleeding hearts in the UK who are still trying to feed us the line on 'greenhouse' taxes and making more use of public transport. Tax on fuel is more about lining the Chancellor's and Treasury's pockets than saving the planet. And let's face it, this current situation is showing us just how poor the public transport system is in this country. Hands up all those who have tried to get through to the rail enquiries line in the last couple of days!
Tony Blair should give in. If he can keep ploughing money into the dome (the biggest white elephant), then he should be able to reduce the petrol.
I have a friend in work who is getting married on Saturday and doesn't even know now if the guests will arrive, due to lack of fuel. Businesses are grinding to a halt, I work for an education company and our carriers are running out of fuel fast and will not be able to deliver within 2 days.
This is disgusting, Blair should give in now!
1. We live in a democracy. The government must not just cave in to the group that shouts the loudest. What if the greens pulled the same stunt but demanded petrol prices go up?
2. The fact is that in the not too distant future we will have used all the world's oil up. Then we will be in a similar situation, only no government will be able to do anything about it. It's good for people to face up to the realities of life without petrol!
In the past year I have seen the fuel price rise dramatically. As an example it used to cost me £25 a week to commute 330 miles. No I pay £35 a week for the same journey. The government should listen to the voters after all we put them there and we can take them away. The chancellor as well as Mr Blair continues to be obstinate and state the tax benefits education as well as health. To date we have seen no great improvement in either of these crippled services. Isn't it about time we dumped the dome and started looking after our people for a change starting with reducing the tax on fuel by at least 35%?
Mr Blair's argument over the fuel crisis is totally flawed. His suggestion that the recent rise in fuel prices is due to OPEC restricting the production and supply of oil. However he fails to explain why the UK pays the highest price for fuel in Europe, when majority of fuel come from OPEC. How many times do you see the price of petrol go down when the price of crude oil per barrel goes down? Answer, never. So the real problem lies with the extortionate rate of tax put on fuel in the UK, as they know they can get away with it with people becoming reliant of using their cars etc.
I don't mind paying REASONABLE taxes of any sort for good services, but I would like to be able to afford to get to work, or have a good public transport system to use instead of my car. If the government won't provide this for the country over the medium term, we're in for a rough ride. (Or emigrate!)
Tony Blair may not
wish to copy the French and give
way to demonstrations of public
protest at high fuel prices, BUT he
doesn't seem to mind copying the
RUSSIANS and 'doing a PUTIN' on
Christopher Gray, UK
These protests have been a situation that have been brewing for sometime. The French protests and the rise in the cost of a barrel of crude have been merely a catalyst in an inevitable surge of public opinion. The government are trying to blame OPEC when they have sought to tax the people dry on fuel. It is surely a sign of the strength of feeling for the normally passive people of Britain to revolt in this way?
The action taken by farmers and the haulage industry is effectively secondary picketing. If a union engaged in this type of action, the full force of the law would be brought against it. The Government must not give in to these people.
Emma Crosby, UK - North West
Leon, Germany/UK asks why we want a good public transport and road system AND low fuel prices, but we have an appalling public transport system and the roads are in urgent need of repair across the country. So put all the revenue from fuel tax into the roads and public transport then few will complain.
It is utter nonsense for the Government to start talking about what expenditure they should cut to pay for a decrease in fuel tax - what they should do is simply change the way the tax is calculated to a fixed amount per gallon so any increases in crude oil prices are not then multiplied threefold at the pump. This would also mean that a fall in the crude oil price would not reduce the expected amount of tax the Government would generate and force it to raise other taxes to pay for all the planned spend increases on things like education and the health service.
Nigel Walter, England
The moment police forces are used to break the blockades will be the moment labour will have lost the next election. This will become Blair's coal miners strike.
The government continues to take taxation revenue from as many sources as it possibly can. Fuel tax is just one of those sources, but is particularly obnoxious because having taxed the fuel they then put VAT on top. So effectively we are taxed on tax we have already paid. I believe the government should act along the lines of a commercial company, seeking to ensure their revenues are spent wisely, gaining value for money and stemming fraud and waste. Then perhaps overall taxation can be reduced.
I hear a lot of moaning about the petrol prices but coming from the very North of Scotland (one of the remotest towns in Scotland) the price of fuel up here is 92.5 (a lot dearer than anything in the rest of Scotland or England) how can they justify that? Yes I definitely agree something needs to be done about the fuel prices especially when we live so remotely.
Adrian Brett, UK
I think it is pathetic, if this carries on the whole country is going to come to a stand still. Food trucks are not going to be able to get through to supermarkets because of lack of fuel which means people are going to panic even more and bulk buy, food will run out quickly.
Taxing fuel to reduce usage and therefore pollution is a fine objective. Unfortunately, these revenues are not invested in public transport. Money for the health service, etc should be raised from direct taxation ALONE. Otherwise the incentive is to increase taxation, not for investment into public transport, but to meet higher demands on public services. The conclusion is simple, we are all being conned.
John M. Jones, Belgium
I'm totally in support of the lorry drivers. The Government has been raking in the revenue from high fuel duty for too long.
I feel for hauliers and self-employed truckers who have to cover rising costs of merely putting on the road.
If the money was being used to improve public transport or the road system, rather than just sitting in Treasury coffers, it might calm anger slightly.
Most people in the UK would not object to a 'fair' tax on fuel. But the UK Government has finally pushed the consumer too far, and they are now reaping the widespread discontent that this outrageous level of tax has sown. If the protests continue to escalate then this issue could bring the Government down.
If the Government is unwilling to listen to the wishes of the British public then you can kiss democracy goodbye, we are living in a dictatorship, pure and simple. If Tony Blair does not wise up soon, the question will not be the high price of petrol, but the suitability of a Government that ignores the wishes of the its electorate.
Presumably those farmers blockading the oil refineries for their campaign will fully support my efforts to blockade farms to protest at their use of intensive farming methods. Somehow, I think not.
Tax on fuel - Labour's Poll Tax.
I wonder what happens when a fire engine or an ambulance can't get to a call? Who's to blame then? I think this is getting out of hand.
Whilst I do not think that any one party is to blame, fuel tax is far too high. The only real answer is to radically change the way that tax is collected. Give business and personal users different scales, abolish the ridiculous vehicle tax, and move some of the excessive tax charge to where it will do some good - tobacco!
Tony Blair should remember that his party was democratically elected by the people of this country to act in their best interests. The actions of the people indicate that they want a cut in the tax on petrol. The Government should stop making excuses and provide it. Reiterating the idea that a cut in petrol tax means losses in schools and hospitals (but not it seems the dreadful Dome) is an insult to us all. You must think we are idiots with bottomless pockets. Continue to punish the motorist at your political peril Labour.
The NHS is supposed to be funded by everybody's National Insurance contributions. If it's not covering the NHS' costs then put it up and say so - not many people would complain about that. Tony Blair is actually using the NHS to exact a regressive tax for other purposes, mainly the accumulation of funds to buy his way to victory at the next election.
Petrol prices typify all that's wrong with this country. I recently came back from a trip to the States and it's depressing as you come back and pay so much more for everything - and usually with poor service to boot. These petrol protesters should be given medals for what they are seeking to achieve. The statements of Government ministers defending these stealth taxes are a joke. I'd like to know how many Ministers pay for their own petrol.
Matthew Lloyd, Wales
The government should not give in to the lorry drivers. The price of fuel in the UK reflects the true environmental cost better than in some other countries. The higher cost is already making motorists (my self included) chose more fuel efficient cars.
The government says taxation on petrol is high to help the environment - so why does the UK have to help the environment more than other EU countries?
I for one am 100% behind the protest. It's about time tax on fuel was reduced to keep us in line with the rest of Europe. This blockade will create a domino effect producing problems for employers, families and public transport. Is this really the government's idea of moving forward for a 'Better Britain'?
Let's unify as a country and stand up for what we NEED to compete in Europe. We need to show this government that we will NOT put up with this any longer.
Keep up the work guys - the government has to listen - at some point
Richard Averill, UK
If the underlying (Opec) cost of fuel is rising, then the Government (by taxing it threefold) has an unexpected increase in revenue; so why would a fuel tax cut now have to be funded by tax increases elsewhere?
Gordon Brown may say he will not budge on the amount of tax charged per litre, I say I will not budge at election time when it comes to vote, Anybody but Labour! Brown forgets he is an elected servant of the people and he would do well to listen to them.
They pull at our heartstrings saying that a drop in tax will mean less money for hospitals. Rubbish. What about the enormous money reserves they have that Gordon is saving to dish out as tax cut bribes just before the election. They could easy dip into that.
80% of the cost of petrol is tax, and other countries have negotiated with their governments. Why can't we?
How can Blair and co. keep a straight face when on TV saying that the high price of fuel is down to OPEC! - It's all down to tax. Blair and Brown should stop treating the UK public like a bunch of noddys - ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, drop the tax NOW!
The Government is losing out on these taxes from me, my local shops are losing business and I am driving 140 miles for my monthly shopping instead of 10.
This Government has no idea about the basic economics of supply and demand. If prices are too high consumers either stop buying or go elsewhere. In my case, elsewhere has been Calais for some time and looks likely to continue to be so.
Philip, Essex, England
I think the UK government is as usual trying to pass the blame for a problem that it created. Blaming Opec is laughable as it is the government increasing the basic cost by 400+%.
The Government is voted by the people for the people. They should listen to the people - that is their job. If they are not doing it properly (listening) then they should be replaced.
David Maclure, Scotland
We British have a habit of accepting what we are given, assuming the stiff British upper lip. We have been forced to accept extortionately high fuel prices for years now and while I fully appreciate the fact that the actual tax on petrol is 2% less than it was in 1997, the fact remains that over 60p for every 80p that we spend on fuel goes to the government. When will governments realise that people do not care about percentages, they only care about facts they can really see. In this case, oil prices have gone up, so the monetary value of the tax has increased proportionately despite actually going down.
This Government prides itself of championing the under class and has vowed to remove the 'rip-off' Britain attitude, yet it taxes the motorist more than any other country in Europe. The idea of taxing a tax (adding VAT onto petrol duty) is appalling. The Government has so far failed to deliver on the majority of its election promises, is this just another case of sod-off to the British voter? When will they change their minds? When its the next election!
This has nothing to do with the government giving in to protests and barricades, it has everything to do with
the government giving the people of this country their money back, money that is being stolen from them by a
dishonest and wasteful political group.
This protest should go on until the Blair government is bought to its knees and Blair and his cronies
are thrown out of jobs that they are not capable of doing.
Its just another part of rip off Britain! And the government are the worst. Surprise surprise we have the highest petrol tax in the world. Well everything else is a rip off! They are getting so much revenue from tax they can't waste it fast enough. And yet we still have the worst public transport in Europe. We do not want high petrol taxes, every one in Britain would agree. I would ask Mr Blair to listen to what we want or face the wrath of a disgruntled nation.
Steve Smalley, USA
Year after year the government has hiked up petrol tax above inflation whilst oil prices have dropped. Now Blair is blaming OPEC for our extortionate petrol prices. What hypocrisy! The British public is reacting, at last, and he had better listen to them or face electoral defeat.
Of course the government should reduce the tax on fuel! Only selfish people who couldn't care about anything other than themselves would disagree. Either that or they have too much money.
Anyway they work for our needs don't they? Surely we are in our rights to demand an end to such over inflated taxation. That's why we elected them or is this becoming a dictatorship now?
If government wish to achieve their stated aim of encouraging widespread use of public transport, they should ensure that there is an adequate public transport provision before they set about penalising those motorists who have no reasonable alternative. It is high time that we as a nation stood together and made those in authority listen to those who elected them.
Paul Williams, United Kingdom
Perhaps one of the factors contributing towards this fiasco is that we feel the government is just not listening to us. Dare I suggest that, even if they can't reduce the tax on fuel, the situation would improve if our Tony actually acknowledged our worries and points of view, rather than treating us all like naughty schoolchildren?
I am afraid the British mentality is the strongest card that this government and previous governments have in their favour. There will be no end to taxation rises in fuel or any other services or goods bought in the UK.
We are simply the official European "rip off" state. We shall as usual "put up and shut up" with the current situation and this action will simply fade away.
I feel that the Government have wasted a lot of money on the Dome. The Dome money could have been used to improve the Health Service and the Education system. But instead the Government take the money from the car owners who have to pay extra for petrol. I suspect Mr Blair's car won't run out of petrol because we pay for it!
We have a general election looming in the UK - the government may be in for a shock if the will of the general public is ignored. The fuel tax issue has been running for a long time and the government are being particularly arrogant if they believe it will blow over before the election. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have the chance to save their election chances now by reducing the duty on fuel - if they choose to ignore us then they will have a very high price to pay at the polls.
Michael Franks, Kuwait (UK)
The Government should start taking notice of how the British people actually feel and how angry they are getting. British people are generally quite complacent but I, like many others, am whole-heartedly behind the protesters on this occasion. The government should remember just who it is who pays their wages and act accordingly. We are fully aware there are democratic processes to action change; the problem is we want action now - not at the next election. It is time the British people stood up for something they believe in and show a little more of the bulldog spirit we used to be famous for!
For too long the motorist has been seen as an easy cash-cow for central and local government. Fuel tax went up as oil prices hit an all time low, now the price has gone up again the full cost of the tax hike is hitting. As for many in Scotland I have to have a car to get to work, I must pay this tax, and I will vote against it at the next election
11 Sep 00 | UK
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11 Sep 00 | Europe
Europe sees copy-cat blockades
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