"The global credit crunch and sharp rise in world oil prices have pushed up prices at the pump,” said Darling. "Today's decision will help motorists and businesses get through what is a difficult time for everyone." (You'd never guess there was an important by-election coming up – ed)

A spokesman for the AA said: “Anything is to be welcomed, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the price of fuel. The way fuel has been rising, this will absorb about five weeks of price rises.

“He (Darling) should look at the levels of fuel duty our European neighbours are paying; we should be at a benchmark with Europe.”

The Freight Transport Association agreed, saying: “The scrapping of the increase at a time of high world oil prices was inevitable. However, at 50p/litre, UK diesel duty for commercial vehicles is twice the EU average of just 25p/litre.

“The Government must now engage with the industry in order to find a practical means of bringing UK duty more in line with continental competitors. Failure to do so will only result in higher costs for UK industry and higher prices for UK consumers.”