Midland Tory MPs demanded the Treasury think again over plans to increase fuel duty by 8p next year, as the Government faced a fresh House of Commons revolt.
They signed a motion warning that increased fuel costs would hit low paid workers and damage competitiveness, adding: “High fuel prices are causing immense difficulties for small and medium-sized businesses.”
Like last month’s vote on an EU referendum, a debate in the House of Commons was prompted by a petition signed by more than 100,000 people.
But this time David Cameron avoided a confrontation with Conservative backbenchers and gave them formal permission to support the motion, which ordered the Government to “consider the effect that increased taxes on fuel with have on the economy.”
Although carefully worded to avoid criticism of the Government, the motion was a reference to Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to increase fuel duty by 3p per litre in January 2012 – and by another 5p per litre in August the same year.
It was backed by 15 West Midlands Conservatives, including Karen Bradley (Con Staffordshire Moorlands), Dan Byles (Con North Warwickshire), Mark Garnier (Con Wyre Forest), Marcus Jones (Con Nuneaton), Chris Kelly (Con Dudley South), Jeremy Lefroy (Con Stafford), James Morris (Con Halesowen and Rowley Regis), Mark Pawsey (Con Rugby), Christopher Pincher (Con Tamworth), Mark Pritchard (Con The Wrekin), Paul Uppal (Con Wolverhampton South West), Robin Walker (Con Worcester), Chris White (Con Warwick and Leamington), Andrew Griffith (Con Burton and Uttoxeter) and Nadhim Zahawi (Con Stratford).
Petrol prices reached a record high of 137.43p per litre in May, after the oil price spiked because of unrest in the Middle East.
According to the AA, petrol prices were an average of 17.5p a litre higher this summer than the year before while the cost of diesel was up by 19.7p.
Speaking in the debate, Staffordshire MP Andrew Griffith said: “My constituents are suffering. They are suffering because they have had pay freezes and in some cases pay cuts.
“To have this spiralling of oil prices is starting to impact on their quality of life and their ability to survive in these difficult times.”
One constituent had warned that he had been forced to spend less maintaining his car because of the cost of petrol, Mr Griffith said.
Worcestershire MP Mark Garnier said the Government needed to bring in tax revenue in order to keep the deficit under control and avoid the type of financial crisis experienced by Greece and Italy.
But he added: “A cut in the price of fuel at the pump will reduce manufacturing distribution costs and it will increase the mobility of the workforce.”
The MP also accused fuel businesses of charging more at petrol stations in rural areas than in nearby urban areas.
He said: “It costs more to run a car in Wyre Forest than it does in Dudley. I have written to the petrol companies to see if they can explain why they want my constituents to pay more for their fuel.”
There was no immediate sign of a cut in petrol tax but the Government appeared to leave the door open for an announcement in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, on November 29.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We recognise as a Government that motoring is an essential part of everyday life for many families and fuel is a significant cost for those families. When it comes to future policy on fuel duty, that is a matter for the Chancellor.
“We don’t set out tax policy ahead of budgets. We set it out in budgets.”
Labour used the debate to call for a general cut in VAT, arguing that this would also lead to lower petrol bills.
Owen Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Treasury Minister, said: “Reversing January’s VAT rise temporarily, as part of Labour’s five point plan for jobs, would ease the squeeze on families and help to kick-start our flat-lining economy.
“It would cut petrol prices by 3p a litre and give a couple with children an average boost of £450 a year.”
Environment campaigners Friends of the Earth said the only long-term solution was to reduce public reliance on petrol.
West Midlands Friends of the Earth Campaigner Chris Crean said: “Successive governments have failed to wean the UK transport system off its oil addiction – and with petrol prices soaring, motorists are now paying the price.”
He added: “Cutting fuel tax is only a sticking plaster solution – urgent action is needed to create a clean, modern and affordable transport system.
“UK transport policy needs a new direction which focuses on better public transport, safer walking and cycling and smarter cars that use less fuel.”