‘Rip-off’ petrol prices were the subject of a debate in the Houses of Parliament yesterday, led by Tory MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon.

He urged the Government to launch a tough investigation into allegations of price-fixing in the UK oil market; to put pressure on oil companies to reduce prices quickly at the pumps; and to reconsider the planned fuel duty tax rise in August.

He believes that high fuel prices are forcing people off the road, crushing businesses and families and creating a poverty trap. A new website www.petrolpromise.com has been launched to gain public support for his campaign.

“On the August rise, the AA says that a 3ppl rise in petrol prices will switch £1.8m a day out of the economy and into petrol costs, draining money away from the high streets,” said Halfon during the debate. “A the same time a report by the respected Centre for Economics and Business  Research shows that cutting duty by 2.5ppl would create 175,000 new jobs. The RAC Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies – both very respected – show that revenues from motoring taxes are set to collapse by between £10bn and £13bn a year over he next decade, as people are driven off the roads by economising on fuel. That is why I urge the Government to think again.

“I recognise that there is no magic money tree, so to cut prices at the pump the Government need seriously to consider another windfall tax on the oil companies, not necessarily on North sea production but on the companies as a whole.”

Halfon said there needed to be competitiveness in the oil market: “Not only the Government, but businesses and the oil companies have a responsibility. There are four complaints. The first is that pump prices are always quick to rise, but that it feels like a court order is needed to get them down. Evidence shows that from May to August 2011, oil prices fell by about 5.5%, adjusting for exchange rates, but petrol and diesel prices stayed high, falling by only 1.5%.

“The second complaint is about the OFTs interim decision not to investigate the UK oil market, despite a dossier of evidence from Brian Madderson who represents the UK’s independent forecourts, which shows that British motorists are being fleeced and that oil firms active in the UK are under formal investigation by the Federal Cartel Office in Germany as a result of similar complaints.

Halfon said the country faces a “petrol crisis in our tax sytem, our oil companies and our banks. Everyone seems to benefit except hard-pressed motorists in Harlow and the millions of hard-working people throughout our country who have no choice but to drive their cars.”