A controversial parliamentary group failed to disclose its list of ‘active members’ among other potential breaches, Josiah Mortimer reports
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An industry-funded parliamentary group that campaigns for cuts to fuel taxes has been accused of breaking transparency rules after failing to disclose who its supporters are.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on FairFuel for UK Motorists and Hauliers has received funding from the HGV and logistics industry and backs cuts to fuel duty, as well as opposing green measures such as the phase-out of new petrol and diesel car sales after 2030.
It is one of the most influential all-party groups – having helped push for almost a decade of freezes on fuel duty, at a cost of billions of pounds to the Treasury at a time when the government says it is committed to moving to net zero. It is led by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who has been dubbed a climate-sceptic by environmental campaigners. Last month, right-wing former Home Secretary Priti Patel joined the group as an officer, reflecting the group’s small-state streak.
Last week, a report by the Social Market Foundation found that a permanent freeze in fuel duty – a move being considered for March’s spring budget – would cost £27bn over the next five years, and benefit the most wealthy in society. The poorest typically drive less and have lower levels of car ownership.
(Left to right) FairFuelUK’s Howard Cox, Heidi skinner of the Freight Transport Association, Conservative MPs James Daly, Robert Halfon, Jamie Wallis and Jonathan Gullis, and Duncan Buchanan of the Road Haulage Association – calling for cuts in fuel duty in 2020
Last month Byline Times reported that the group, run by campaign group FairFuel UK, has been funded by the Road Haulage Association, and previously by Logistics UK, both of which are reliant on Heavy Goods Vehicles in line for emissions-cutting taxes and reforms – as well as being on the receiving end of clean-air levies like London’s soon-to-be-expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone.
The RHA describes itself as a private company “dedicated to the interests of the road haulage industry.” Road freight services produced 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 – accounting for nearly a fifth of UK transportation emissions, according to Statista.
Now Byline Times can reveal that the All Party Group – which appears to only have one active Labour representative on its nine-strong committee – faces an investigation by standards officials amid allegations it fails to disclose who its parliamentary supporters are.
All Party Parliamentary Groups have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as they are typically co-run or sponsored by external interest groups.
The rules state that APPGs “should provide lists of active members either on their website or, if they do not have a website, on request. For these purposes, an active member is one who has asked to be on the APPGs electronic or hard copy mailing list.”
However, when contacted by Byline Times reader Lee Powell, Craig Mackinlay MP did not share a list of those MPs who were signed up, instead sending a link to a list of serving officers on the unofficial site Parallel Parliament. Byline Times also asked for a list of active members but received no response.
All reports by APPGs are also meant to display a health warning stating: “This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this Report are those of the group.”
However, a report in 2021, published on behalf of the FairFuel group, hit out at the plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. It failed to have that disclaimer on its cover – and led to the resignation of at least one Labour supporter of the APPG.
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In his introduction to the report, Craig Mackinlay MP wrote that the APPG “believes millions of our fossil-fuelled vehicle drivers have been ignored for too long.” It slammed “vocal green zealots” and cited “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” founder Steve Baker MP’s “concern[s] about the astronomical costs of the current Net Zero plans. If they were to be carried through to their logical conclusion, it would mean the end of the comfortable lifestyles we have enjoyed for generations.”
However, it was only on the very back page that the report noted the Report has “been produced and paid for by the FairFuelUK Campaign for the APPG for Fair Fuel for UK
Motorists and UK Hauliers…Funding is through support from key founding backers the FTA [Freight Transport Association], Logistics UK and regular donations from supporters. Previous backers have included the RAC, Association of Pallet Networks, UKLPG [UK Liquid Petrol Gas] and others.”
The report also noted that “contributors” included the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Climate site DeSmog notes the think tank was founded by former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson with the purpose of combating what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to mitigate climate change.
In December, the group appointed a businessman who claims environmentalism is part of a “totalitarian” plan to control the public, and says there is “no causal link” between human-made carbon emissions and global warming, DeSmog reported.
FairFuel UK has frequently targeted Labour politicians over policies designed to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. But Sadiq Khan – who has made tackling air pollution one of his key issues as Mayor – appears to have been targeted with particular hostility.
It comes as the Mayor of London plans to roll out the charge on the most polluting vehicles – affecting around 15% of drivers – from inner to all of outer London this August.
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The Lib Dems’ climate spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP told Byline Times: “Decarbonising the transport sector should be a top priority for all Parliamentarians. 2050 is rapidly approaching and we are missing target after target. Groups inside Westminster should not be adding to that delay.
“Any group looking to influence policy should have Net Zero at the heart of their advice. By not doing so we only slip further away from our targets and our responsibility to protect the planet.”
Byline Times reader Lee Powell, who first spotted the alleged rule-breaking, added: “It should be a simple request to provide a list of members of an All Party Group, as well as being a requirement in order to be registered. If you can’t provide a list, it’s not surprising if people think you might have something to hide.”
A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said: “The Commissioner does not comment on the conduct of individual MPs outside of the information published on his website and material (either a formal report or a decision letter) published at the end of an investigation.”
Craig Mackinlay MP and the FairFuel APPG did not respond to requests for comment.
As this newspaper reported last month, the APPG on Fair Fuel’s founder organisation, FairFuelUK, has been vociferous in its opposition to increases in tax on petrol and diesel and claims that, since 2010, it has “saved drivers over £160 billion in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT” through its campaigning – in other words, costing the Treasury more than the annual budget of the NHS in England.
Fuel duty is meant to rise each year in pence terms, rather than as a percentage of the pump price. But governments have consistently halted this over the past decade following lobbying from drivers’ groups.
Higher Education Minister Robert Halfon has been quoted calling FairFuelUK “one of the most successful campaigning pressure groups in the UK”, saying that “with limited resources” its leader Howard Cox has “single-handedly created a remarkable coalition of millions of grassroots activists, parliamentarians and supporting media to keep fuel duty frozen year after year”.
FairFuelUK says it is a non-partisan campaign, but much of its support in Parliament derives from the climate-sceptic Conservative right.
The APPG’s chair, Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, heads up the Net Zero Scrutiny Group – consisting of 20 or so Tory backbenchers vociferously opposed to green policies such as the planned phase-out of gas boilers. The caucus is viewed as a hub for climate ‘sceptics’ in the party.
Mackinlay has it out at levels of “fuel taxation, congestion charges, parking costs, roads investment” and has demanded “fairer treatment for carbon-based fuelled vehicle owners”. He has called Cox “instrumental in organising, drafting, printing and publicising” a 2021 report that hit out at the planned 2030 phase-out of fossil fuelled vehicle sales.
“Standing up for Common Sense”
FairFuel UK founder and the APPG’s secretary Howard Cox told Byline Times last month: “At FairFuel UK, we have no party-political links but are standing up for low-income families, small businesses, sound economics and common sense”.
He added that, among the group’s “hundreds of thousands of supportive drivers”, are a “huge chunk of Labour voters that also believe the whole alleged climate crisis religion is being used to destroy our freedom of transport choice”.
And he claimed that the 2030 cut-off for the sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles will “cost at least five times the alleged environmental benefits” based on “the Government’s own valuations of the alleged unproven environmental benefits”.
Last year, it emerged that Cox is the director of a firm developing unproven, experimental fuel additive products to reduce emissions. Meanwhile, a recommendation in the APPG’s 2021 report claimed the phase-out of petrol and diesel engines was unnecessary. Cox denied any conflict of interest saying the recommendation was a “practical and effective” means of reducing pollution instead of phasing-out fossil-fuel vehicles.
The London Labour Party has branded FairFuel UK a de facto part of the “fossil fuel lobby” after receiving funding from the highly-polluting haulage industry and opposing policies to transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles.
After being approached by Byline Times in January, the Road Haulage Association said it was ending its funding for FairFuel UK.
Logistics UK – formerly the Freight Transport Association – told this newspaper it had stepped away from sponsorship of FairFuel UK as the group’s focus “had shifted from being a campaign solely backed by commercial fleet operators into a public motorists’ campaign and this led to some campaigning positions which are not aligned with those of our members”.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has signalled he will once again cancel the planned rise in fuel duty and could extend the 5p cut, despite fuel prices dropping in recent months.
If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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