13 October 2000

Chancellor has ears for Gills views

THE Chancellor of the Exchequer has discussed possible ways of appeasing rural anger over fuel taxes during secret talks with NFUpresident Ben Gill.

Gordon Brown paid a visit to NFU president Mr Gills Yorkshire farm last week. He was told UK farming is being "forced under" by taxation burdens, as well as over-regulation and the strong pound.

Mr Brown is also reported to have travelled to Leeds with transport minister Lord Macdonald to meet farmers and hauliers last Friday (Oct 6).

Protesters have given the Chancellor until Nov 13 to make a clear commitment to cut fuel prices or face a repeat of last months protests.

It is understood Mr Brown will make an announcement about fuel tax and motoring costs during his pre-Budget statement expected on Oct 31.

A large cut in fuel duty is thought unlikely because it would be seen as bowing to the demands of the blockaders.

One option being considered, according to newspaper reports, is for drivers in the Highlands, mid-Wales and remote parts of England to be given a £110 discount on fuel tax.

They would pay £45 instead of £155 for cars over 1200cc. This was described as "pure speculation" by the Treasury, however.

Fuel protesters have been reported as saying they may target food supplies as part of their campaign. Haulier Robert Burns, a leader at Scottish protests, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that renewed action may focus on supermarket depots and distribution centres.

Meanwhile, environmental campaigners have vowed to challenge farmers if they try to hold protests at oil refineries again. Greenpeace says it will send teams to any picket line to argue the case for maintaining current levels of fuel duty.

But farmers for Action chairman David Handley said Greenpeace should concentrate on lobbying the government.