Government plans new laws to keep fuel flowing

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The Government's emergency task force is considering giving oil companies a legal duty to keep fuel supplies flowing.

The Government's emergency task force is considering giving oil companies a legal duty to keep fuel supplies flowing.

Home Secretary Jack Straw, who willl chair the first meeting of the task force today, said last week's crippling fuel shortages must not be repeated.

"One of the key things that emerged... at the beginning of last week was the oil companies' lack of preparedness for a blockage of this kind," he told GMTV.

"It was weird that by last Tuesday and Wednesday the entrances to the oil terminals were clear ... and yet the oil was still not coming out."

Mr Straw said water, gas and electricity firms already had a legal duty to ensure supplies and similar measures could be applied to the oil industry.

The new task force brings together ministers, senior police officers and oil company executives.

Mr Straw said that as well as considering the introduction of a new legal duty on firms to ensure fuel supplies, the task force would look at their supply arrangements.

"So we will be looking at that and then also at the internal arrangements the oil companies have had or have not had in the past for command and control to secure continuity of supply," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Conservative leader William Hague sought to cash in by describing the protesters who had paralysed the country as "fine, upstanding citizens" and repeating his promise that fuel duty would be a "prime candidate" for a tax cut under a future Tory government.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor branded Labour and Tory reaction to the crisis as old politics practised by politicians trying to fool the electorate.

He said: "People have just begun to learn they can take the power back from the politicians. In some ways it is frightening, disruptive. But above all, it is seductive - once discovered they won't let it go."

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