MPs are voting on a motion tabled by Labour to abandon the government’s controversial 3p per litre increase in fuel duty planned for January.
Labour called on the government to delay the tax hike until at least next April, claiming families and businesses are in desperate need of some good news from the exchequer.
At the moment, the duty on diesel and unleaded petrol is due to increase this January by 3p per litre, following George Osborne’s decision to postpone the rise, which was due in August.
But some MPs anticipate that the Treasury could be about to change policy with an announcement, which would delay once again this rise.
Labour had hoped some campaigning Tory backbenchers would support its motion and rebel against the government.
Robert Halfon MP, who has led the campaign against increasing fuel duty, said he would not vote against the government until he had seen whether Mr Osborne responds to mounting concerns in the autumn statement, due on 5 December.
Speaking before the vote, he said: “The cost of fuel is the number one issue, that’s why I am campaigning on it. I have had discussions with various people and it is my view that the government is in strong listening mode.
“If I didn’t believe that I would make a point and go in to the lobby with Labour.”
The campaign group FairFuelUK previously said it believed the tax hike could will raise only £800m, compared to Treasury projections that it would bring in £1.5bn.
It could also cost as many as 35,000 jobs, it said.
The group’s spokesman, broadcaster Quentin Willson, said he welcomed Labour pushing on this issue.
“Consumers are currently paying an eye-watering 80p per litre in combined fuel duty and VAT. This is socially unjust and adding another 3p in tax doesn’t make sense for economic recovery and deficit reduction.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister had earlier noted that the government always tried to “listen to the concerns of motorists” on the affordability of any duty hikes.
The spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “There are a series of planned rises in fuel taxes programmed in and those will generate revenue which will help bring the deficit down.
“But what the government has sought to do thus far is listen to the concerns of motorists and, where it can, delay or cancel those planned rises.”
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said Mr Osborne had been making “nods and winks” on fuel duty over the past 24 hours to dissuade Tory MPs from joining Labour in voting against the 3p rise.
Mr Balls told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “I would say to Conservative MPs, I wouldn’t take a nod or a wink from this chancellor as sufficient.
“I would want to make a clear statement to my constituents – this is the wrong thing to do and I am going to vote with Labour.”
But the move was opposed by Friends of the Earth. Campaigner David Powell said the row “completely missed the big picture” and does nothing to wean transport off its fossil fuel dependency.
“It’s no use simply tinkering under the bonnet. Ministers must completely overhaul their motoring strategy so we can have cleaner, cheaper transport in the future.”