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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 17:28 GMT
Fuel protesters 'like cornered rats'
Fuel protest
The UK could see a return to refinery blockades
Farmers are going bankrupt and many hauliers are having to quit their trade because of the added pressure of high fuel duty on their costs, a Commons select committee has heard.

Farmer David Hanley, chairman of Farmers For Action and the People's Fuel Lobby told the trade and industry committee that bankruptcy, redundancies and even suicides were all symptoms of the difficulties faced by farmers and hauliers.

We are so down-trodden now that we are in a corner, and if you get a rat in a corner there is only one thing he can do to survive and that is fight back

David Hanley
Much of the UK's farming sector has been experiencing hard times and the Monmouthshire dairy farmer said: "You talk about bankruptcies - I can tell you, you've seen nothing yet."

Mr Hanley said in his area six people under the age of 40 had committed suicide "because they can see no future in their business".

He suggested that the plight of hauliers was such that many were not only going to lose their lorries but they faced losing their homes as well.


"We are so down-trodden now that we are in a corner, and if you get a rat in a corner there is only one thing he can do to survive and that is fight back," he said.

He predicted that as many as 25,000 lorries could converge on London for a mass protest planned for 14 November if fuel tax cuts were not announced in Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-Budget report.

Protesters' demands include a 26.2p cut in diesel duty but they would be "very happy" if duty was cut by 15p as a starting point towards parity with rates in Europe, Mr Hanley said.

Protesters have not ruled out a repeat of oil refinery pickets which led to petrol pumps running dry in September, but he said that the FFA and the PFL would condemn attempts to disrupt the national grid, rail services or food distribution.

Hauliers 'going bamkrupt'

The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association told the committee that a "considerable number" of hauliers had quit the industry as a result of current pressures.

This was challenged by committee chairman Martin O'Neill. who said that there had been no rise in the number of haulage firms going bankrupt.

Mr King also argued that fuel was now so expensive in the UK that the government was losing "a huge amount of money" in revenue because drivers were purchasing fuel abroad.

He said: "Fifty per cent of fuel purchases for driving in Northern Ireland are being made south of the border."

Mr King argued that giving hauliers an 'essential user rebate' of 39.1p a litre would in fact give the Treasury an extra 136m a year.

Petrol retailers 'forced to close'

The Petrol Retailers' Association told the MPs that 164 independent fuel retailers had been forced to close as a result of government intervention to stop a price rise on the day the protests ended.

Esso and some other companies announced the rises on 14 September, but almost immediately backed down after criticism from the prime minister.

PRA director Ray Holloway said the cost of this climbdown was passed on to the bulk fuel buyers who supply independent retailers, squeezing the independents' profits and forcing many to close.

But Mr O'Neill also cast doubt on the claim, saying that journalists who had checked 17 of the retailers listed by the PRA found that at least seven were still in operation.

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See also:

01 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Ministers set out fuel defence
01 Nov 00 | Business
Fuel crisis hits factories
01 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair mounts fuel offensive
01 Nov 00 | UK
Fuel protest threat
31 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Oil protesters 'not peaceful'
25 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Prescott attacked over fuel crisis
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