Filling a tank

Harlow MP Robert Halfon has called for a parliamentary debate on whether the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) should investigate UK fuel prices.

The Conservative MP wants a debate and vote to focus on the non-duty portion of petrol and diesel prices: specifically on whether there is a need to investigate possible price-fixing and anti-competitive behaviour by oil wholesalers.

Halfon is seeking to table a Commons Motion on the issue, which has been backed by 65 cross-party MPs, and he has approached the Commons BackBench Business Committee about the need for a debate. He has also written directly to the OFT.

Several other G20 economies have already taken major regulatory action on fuel prices but Britain has yet to do so, he says.

The OFT has failed to investigate the UK oil market since the late 1990s, he adds, despite independent British fuelcourts repeatedly claiming that Britain is facing price-fixing from oil wholesalers.

Also, in Germany the Federal Cartel Office is currently investigating oil firms active in the UK after allegations of price-fixing.

Halfon has long been a passionate campaigner for lower fuel prices. "Britain desperately needs cheaper petrol and diesel," he says on the website of, the fuel price campaign he founded.

"The Office of Fair Trading has said it will not investigate the UK oil market. I am petitioning the Backbench Business Committee to table a motion so that Parliament can urge the OFT to investigate that market, which clearly looks uncompetitive and unfair to many people." Halfon adds on his blog.

A spokesperson for the OFT confirms a provisional decision back in April not to launch an investigation, following representations at the start of this year by the independent fuel retailers' body the RMI. While a parliamentary debate would not necessarily lead to a review of this position, it "would be willing to consider any further information or evidence".

MT understands from sources close to the situation that Halfon's request is being looked on favourably by the BackBench Business Committee, and that a vote in parliament will take place.

FairFuelUK founder Peter Carroll says he welcomes the move. "Our main focus is still on fuel duty but we understand that the public and businesses have genuine concerns about the supply of petrol and diesel across the country, and we welcome any move to shine the light of transparency on that issue."