Straw: We do not seek conflict with fuel protesters

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary yesterday denied the Government was seeking a confrontation with fuel protesters as he outlined plans to safeguard essential supplies in the event of another blockade.

The Home Secretary yesterday denied the Government was seeking a confrontation with fuel protesters as he outlined plans to safeguard essential supplies in the event of another blockade.

In a Commons statement, Jack Straw disclosed contingency plans drawn up to protect tanker drivers from potential intimidation. Preparations had been drawn to protect food depots, keep major roads open and protect "potential targets other than fuel depots".

Arrangements were also in hand to direct fuel supplies to a limited number of designated service stations and give priority to essential users.

He said: "No one has the right to instigate the kind of disruption we saw in September."

With less than two weeks to the end of the protesters' 60-day deadline for a cut in fuel duty, Mr Straw said: "The right to argue, complain and to protest is an essential feature of our democratic society.

"Preventing law-abiding people from going about their business and threatening the well-being of the country is not. No-one can fairly say that we have not made every effort to listen to people's concerns."

September's fuel protests had "very nearly caused serious damage to our economy" and disrupted essential public services, with companies losing orders and suffering financial problems. Protesters had allowed through supplies which they judged essential. But there were millions who did not benefit from this.

"It is therefore not from any desire whatsoever for confrontation, which we still seek to avoid, but because of our responsibilities as a government to the country as a whole that we must now make preparations to minimise the risk of this happening again."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, said the Tories would support "all measures which are reasonable and sensible" to keep the economy moving, food in the shops, fuel in the pumps and the emergency services in action in the case of renewed protests. "Nevertheless, isn't the real reason for any impending fuel crisis this arrogant and out of touch Government's refusal to cut fuel tax?"

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