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The BBC's Alex Watson reports
"A taskforce has been set up in the wake of the fuel crisis"
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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Fuel supply deal 'in sight'
tanker & policeman
Tanker drivers "will have police protection"
A signed agreement between the government, police and oil companies on protecting fuel supplies could be finalised as early as next week, says Home Secretary Jack Straw.

And oil tanker drivers would in future receive the full backing of the police in the case of future disruption, he promised.

There is no question that many of the drivers concerned felt intimidated

Jack Straw
Mr Straw was giving the outcome of the second meeting of the taskforce set up to find concrete ways of ensuring Britain would never again be brought to a standstill over fuel.

The 19 members were in strong agreement over the need to prevent further blockades, Mr Straw said.

He also confirmed that changes in legislation over the delivery and enforcement of supplies were also a possibility.

Securing national services

"The idea of the memorandum is to ensure that every signatory understands in advance what they need to do if there are events like those which took place last week," he said.

"Those events were frankly unanticipated from their speed and scale.

Motorist grabs his chance to refuel
Panic buying spread around the UK
"We have drawn on that experience and are putting in place all kind of practical arrangements so that, above all, if such events do take place we can better secure the national life of this country and its essential services."

As the blockades of refineries took hold across the UK last week, supermarkets began running short of fresh goods due to panic-buying, some schools were closed and the NHS was placed on red alert.

There were reports of tanker drivers being intimidated by protesters demanding cuts in fuel duty.

Mr Straw said: "There is no question that many of the drivers concerned felt intimidated.

"That was reported to us by both the oil companies and their trade union leaders.

"We have to take account of that and ensure that they feel safer at an earlier stage, in the case of future action, to make their deliveries."

Changing the law

Last week, Mr Straw said the government would consider putting fuel companies under the same obligations as gas, water and electricity suppliers to guarantee services in times of crisis.

The price of fuel is not just a matter for the hauliers but for the whole economy

Freight Transport Association
After the latest meeting, he said: "There is consensus to examine the issues of changes in legislation.

"There is really strong agreement about the need to strengthen and improve our co-operation and co-ordination needs.

"We are examining if there should be a change in the statutory obligations of the oil companies and what the powers of the police need to be while preserving the right for peaceful protest."

However, he refused to speculate on the contents of Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-Budget report, which is expected in November before the end of the 60-day deadline imposed on the government by the protesters.

Diesel dispute

The meeting came hours after a government report said the Treasury makes no money from taxes levied on road hauliers.

The study concluded that a large lorry can do 28,000 of damage every year. But the same vehicle is estimated to generate 25,000 in fuel tax and vehicle excise duty.

The Freight Transport Association, which met Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Thursday night in London, said it would continue to push for a 15p reduction on the cost of a litre of diesel, despite the continuing signs that the government will not relent.

Director General David Green said: "We emphasised in the meeting with him that the price of fuel is not just a matter for the hauliers but for the whole economy."

However, Mr Green restated the association's reluctance to push for a reduction on the price of petrol.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lorry taxes 'pay for roads damage'
20 Sep 00 | World fuel crisis
UK fuel tax: The facts
14 Sep 00 | Business
Could the government cut fuel duty?
18 Sep 00 | Business
Oil prices hit new 10-year high
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