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The BBC's Norman Smith reports
"The polls will increase the pressure on the Chancellor to make concessions on fuel taxes"
 real 56k

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers
"We played our part in a what has been a very difficult and testing week"
 real 28k

The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr
"Horrendous figures for the government"
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Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Drivers kept waiting as shortages ease
Tanker being watched by policeman
Supplies for essential services continue to be protected
Petrol station queues of frustrated motorists are continuing despite the apparent easing of widespread fuel shortages.

As the health service and food supplies also start returning to normal, polls suggest the UK Government's popularity has plummeted in the wake of last week's protests and blockades.

The Conservative Party is ready for government. We have got a team that's ready for government

William Hague

The Conservative Party leader, William Hague, took the opportunity to declare his party is now ready for government.

Meanwhile, reports suggested the government is considering plans to make oil tanker supplies an "essential service" so it can order drivers to deliver fuel.

The task force set up by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to try to prevent a recurrence of the fuel crisis is to discuss the proposals on Monday, The Observer reports.

An Essential Services Act could be passed to make it a criminal offence to refuse to deliver fuel and the government could also commandeer tankers, the newspaper says.

Fuel deliveries on Saturday reached around 140% of usual levels, according to government officials, but continuing shortages mean restrictions remain.

The Trade Secretary, Stephen Byers, said: "This means we are now able to widen the restocking of petrol stations beyond the original 2,500 designated filling stations."

Panic buying ends

"Nevertheless, we shall continue to protect supplies for essential users through the 300 priority stations."

BP has placed newspaper advertisements saying it aims to have petrol available at 70% of its filling stations by Monday.

The situation in the NHS is "much, much better", according to the Department of Health, and supermarkets say panic buying of bread, milk and other essentials has ended.

But despite the slowly improving situation two polls on Sunday made dismal reading for ministers.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Hoon: Polls are "short-term knock"

The News of the World MORI survey of 1,000 people showed the Tories ahead of Labour by 2%, their first lead for eight years.

A poll of 1,000 voters by NOP for the Sunday Times found the parties were neck and neck.

Mr Hague played down the significance of the polls but declared: "The Conservative Party is ready for government. We have got a team that's ready for government."

He told GMTV's Sunday programme: "The people around me at the top of the party, these people would make far better ministers than the bunch we have got at the moment."

The Opposition leader described the protesters who triggered the week's chaos - estimated by the Institute of Directors to have cost business 1bn - as "fine, upstanding citizens".

The government had exaggerated talk of violence and intimidation, he added.

Fuel helplines
General public
08456 071071
Essential users
0345 345005

But the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, told the programme: "I don't think it's particularly surprising over the last week that we should suffer what I think will be a short-term knock in the opinion polls."

"But at the same time this government will carry on taking the long-term decisions in the interests of the British people."

The government plans to send a team of ministers across Britain to spread the message that spending on public services will not be sacrificed for the demands of fuel protesters.

They have warned of a return to the streets if the government fails to act within 60 days - but Chancellor Gordon Brown has remained adamant there will be no short term cut in fuel duty

His stance prompted shadow chancellor Michael Portillo to accuse the government of "growing more remote and arrogant by the day".

Meanwhile lorry drivers in the Netherlands have called off their protests over fuel prices after striking a deal with the Dutch government.

In Hungary, lorry drivers have withdrawn a threat to blockade oil refineries after the government agreed to cancel a planned rise in fuel tax.

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See also:

16 Sep 00 | Business
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15 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Task force to tackle protests threat
15 Sep 00 | Education
School closures worsen in fuel crisis
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