Page last updated at 18:07 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 19:07 UK

Fuel demo adds to road taxes row


Aerial footage of the fuel protests

Lorry drivers have staged a protest at the rising cost of fuel, at the same time as speculation mounted about a government rethink on road tax.

Hundreds of lorry drivers protested in London and a two-mile line of lorries crawled along the M4 towards Cardiff.

Hauliers say diesel prices topping 120p a litre, plus the planned 2p fuel tax rise, will drive firms "to the wall".

Meanwhile, ministers said Alistair Darling was "listening" to fears over plans to raise vehicle excise duty.

The government is planning to increase road tax on older, more polluting vehicles, and next week the chancellor will meet Labour MPs opposed to the plan.

So far, 42 MPs have signed a Commons motion asking him to reconsider the policy on the grounds that it is retrospective and therefore "unfair" to people who have already bought their cars.


While the chancellor cannot control global oil prices, hauliers want an "essential user" duty rebate on fuel of between 20p and 25p a litre to ease competition with foreign haulage companies.

Cheapest unleaded: 108.9p (Mansfield)
Most expensive unleaded: 126.9p (Newport, Isle of Wight)
Cheapest diesel: 115.9p (Banff)
Most expensive diesel: 140.9p (Isle of Mull)
Latest figures from

Mike Greene, leader of the protests in Wales, told the BBC that, unless the government agreed to the rebate within seven days, lorries would blockade refineries and ports.

Peter Carroll, from TransAction 2007 which organised the London protest, said he did not condone blockades, but found it "hard to condemn them", given how much hauliers were suffering.

The BBC's environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, said it was family-run, small and medium-sized firms that were worst hit.

He said large companies were able to raise their rates to absorb higher fuel costs and could also more easily pass on the pain of price rises to consumers.

'Real crisis'

Organisers had hoped as many as 1,000 lorries would take part in the protest in London, but Peter Carroll, from TransAction, said the turnout was about 500. Police put the figure at 300.

We have a worldwide reputation for being an expensive country for fuel. No wonder they call us 'treasure island'
Adrian, Chester

The lorries parked on the eastbound A40 closing the carriageway between the northern roundabout A3220 junction and Paddington from 1000 BST until 1600 BST.

Some drivers also joined a rally in central London before petitioning 10 Downing Street. Mr Carroll said hauliers were being "murdered" by rising costs, and the public's response to their plight had been "enormously positive".

"We feel we couldn't have put on a better or bigger display to show the government this is a real crisis," he said.

"The acid test will now be whether they listen to us."

In Wales, police said about 100 lorries took part in a 60-mile convoy protest from Cross Hands, near Llanelli. Other reports put the figure at about 170.

Hauliers protesting against fuel prices
Convoys have blocked the A40 and disrupted traffic on the M4

They had planned to hand in a petition to the Welsh assembly at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, but police turned back many vehicles and diverted others to a service station west of the city.

Martin Arthur, who owns a haulage firm in Usk, Monmouthshire, said: "We have to make ourselves heard or people will keep walking all over us.

"People will have to stop working sooner or later because there's no point working for a loss."

Commons Transport Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said ministers should acknowledge widespread concerns over soaring fuel costs but not be forced into policy decisions by protests.

"Everybody is feeling the impact of the increased cost of living," she said. "That's something the government will have to think about."

map showing route of London convoys
Trucks from Cowbit, Lincolnshire head to A40 in London via M1, A406 and Hanger Lane Gyratory
Trucks from M2 Medway Services, Kent head to A40 in London via Vauxhall Bridge, Grosvenor Road, Chelsea Embankment, Finborough Road, Warwick Road, Holland Road and West Cross Route (A3220)
Coaches take drivers from parking on A40 to 1130 BST Marble Arch rally
All vehicles supposed to leave A40 by 1530 BST
A Treasury spokesman said the government understood businesses and families were "feeling the pressure from high fuel prices".

But they said the "immediate priority" was to encourage oil-producing countries to increase output, that a 2p-per-litre fuel duty increase had been put back from April to October and fuel duty was "still 11% below its 1999 level in real terms".

The Treasury also defended its plan to increase vehicle excise duty for vehicles registered since 2001 that emit higher levels of pollutants.

Owners of the most polluting cars could face a rise of as much as 200, but a spokesman said the policy was needed to "strengthen the environmental incentive to develop and purchase fuel-efficient cars".

Business Secretary John Hutton told the BBC the chancellor was "listening to what people are saying about vehicle excise duty".

He also said the government wanted UK hauliers to have "a fair deal" and the chancellor would have "to consider how he wants to go forward on this".

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC he "fully understood" the hauliers' concerns, but "government revenues have to come from somewhere".

He said any decisions made about increased road tax would be made in the autumn statement.

Petrol price graph

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