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The BBC's Political Correspondent, Carole Walker
"The government believes it is gaining ground"
 real 56k

Monday, 6 November, 2000, 15:00 GMT
Minister robust over fuel protests
Fuel blockade
Refinery blockades could happen again
Home Secretary Jack Straw has described public support for further fuel protests as "ambiguous".

Mr Straw was speaking after a meeting of the fuel supply task force, whose membership includes representatives from oil companies, unions and the police.

He also argued that the overall level of tax in Britain was lower than in the rest of Europe and he stressed that giving in to demands for cuts in duty could damage the economy.

"There is no doubt members of the public do not like high fuel prices - I do not know a single person, myself included, who likes paying high fuel prices," Mr Straw said.

"But we have to look at taxation in the round - the public understands there are competing priorities for the same money, not least the claim of the pensioners."

The home secretary's comments followed a warning from fuel protesters that the only way the government can avert further fuel blockades is to implement a blanket cut in fuel duty.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said he recognised the "legitimate concerns" of hauliers.

But - during his speech to the CBI in Birmingham - he indicated that they needed help in restructuring, in the light of changes affecting the industry, rather than a cut in duty.

Robust line

The government is taking an increasingly robust line over fuel duty and recent days have seen organisations such as the CBI coming out firmly against any further protests.

The South Wales chief constable Tony Burden took a similarly forceful approach at a news conference on Monday saying that his officers would be taking a "no-nonsense" attitude to any future blockades.

But People's Fuel Lobby chairman David Handley insisted: "This cut has got to be for people in this country and for all the people who supported what we did for six days to make sure we get cuts."

Mr Handley's comments came before talks between Transport Minister Lord Macdonald and Brynle Williams, the north Welsh farmer and man behind the Stanlow refinery blockade in Cheshire

Poor are 'really hurting'

Mr Williams, who first instituted the 60-day deadline for a cut in fuel duty, was due to meet Lord Macdonald on Monday afternoon.

Brynle Williams
Brynle Williams to meet minister
Protest organisers are hoping to gain concessions from the government in Mr Brown's pre-Budget report later this week.

Options open to Mr Brown include a freeze on fuel duties for a year, the implementation of tax disc cuts for lorries and charges of 1,500 for foreign truckers using UK roads.

Another fuel protest leader, John Pratt, of farmers for action, said protesters would only settle for a blanket cut in fuel tax.

But he added: "We are not looking for confrontation. We are not looking to bring the government down but we are looking for a sensible reduction in fuel duty."

Those comments came as Mr Burden, one of the most senior police officers in Wales, became the latest to voice strong opposition to any further protests.

'No nonsense' approach to blockades

Ahead of next Monday's 60-day deadline, Mr Burden said his force would be taking a "no nonsense" attitude to any future blockades.

And he indicated that the emergency services were now much more prepared for any disruption than they had been in September when they were, he conceded, "caught unawares".

Mr Burden said: "The threat of more blockades is here again and it is a very serious business that puts lives at risk."

Police would do "everything necessary" to ensure that fuel moves in the event of further protests, he pledged.

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See also:

04 Nov 00 | UK
Panic petrol buying eases
04 Nov 00 | UK
Food blockade 'could kill'
03 Nov 00 | UK
Blair stands firm on fuel
06 Nov 00 | UK
The fuel protesters' story
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