Straw: We'll use emergency powers to keep roads open

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The Independent Online

Sweeping emergency measures to prevent a fresh wave of fuel protests bringing Britain to a standstill were outlined by the Government last night.

Sweeping emergency measures to prevent a fresh wave of fuel protests bringing Britain to a standstill were outlined by the Government last night.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, announced plans to use emergency powers to prevent food and fuel supplies being blocked, keep roads open and to ensure a million key workers, including nurses, cooks and teachers, can get to work.

Hauliers who break the law will face the removal of their operating licences, Home Office sources said. They also promised "robust" policing of any new protests, co-ordinated by a central police control centre at New Scotland Yard.

Mr Straw issued a dossier of 180 incidents of intimidation of tanker drivers leaving depots, from shouting to hurling bricks, during the fuel protest two months ago. "The disruption that took place in September very nearly caused serious damage to our economy," he told the Commons.

The oil company Shell added to the controversy over petrol prices yesterday by announcing a record 80 per cent jump in its three-month profit figures to £2.24bn. It said the "justified" profits were driven by "high crude prices over which we have no control". John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said the figures were "obscene".

As William Hague accused the Government of creating a "climate of anxiety", Downing Street denied ministers were "picking a fight" with the People's Fuel Lobby and warned motorists against panic buying.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, left yesterday's meeting of the Cabinet in little doubt that he would reject calls for an across-the-board cut in petrol prices when he presents his draft Budget next Wednesday. He said he would "resist demands for irresponsible and unsustainable pre-election handouts from any quarter."

Stephen Timms, the Treasury Financial Secretary, said the 26.2p cut in fuel duty demanded by the protesters would cost £11.8bn and would mean a tax hike of £13 a week for 17.5 million British families.

In a speech in Newcastle today Tony Blair will say the Government is "listening to many causes" ahead of next week's draft Budget but economic stability comes "first, second and third" for his government.

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