Fuel Contingency Planning

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 2nd November 2000.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 12:31 pm, 2nd November 2000

The Opposition will support all measures that are reasonable and sensible to keep the economy moving, to keep food in the shops and fuel in the pumps and, above all, to keep the emergency services in action. Nevertheless, is not the real reason for any impending fuel crisis this arrogant and out-of-touch Government's refusal to cut fuel taxes? Is it not the case that, having reached the top of the escalator, they simply refuse to get off? Is it not the case that they have such limited experience of filling up a petrol tank for themselves that they have no idea of the effect on ordinary, hard-working families? I assume that the Home Secretary's driver fills up his tank and carries the can for that.

The Government have caused this crisis by their refusal to listen to the hard-pressed people of Britain or to the consistent warnings of the Opposition. Will the Home Secretary say now, simply and straightforwardly and in words of one syllable, whether he accepts that fuel tax is too high? Is not the Home Secretary stoking up a crisis by advocating panic buying and stockpiling? Presumably to divert attention from his failures, is not the right hon. Gentleman attempting to scare the nation with the ghost of this Government's credibility?

Is the Home Secretary aware of the statements made by several police forces across the country, and by Sir John Evans on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, that the previous protests were overwhelmingly peaceful? The right hon. Gentleman makes large claims about intimidation and violence, but the police organisations have said that there was a good working rapport between police commanders and the pickets and that the impression among police officers was that the protest was peaceful. We can sort this out right now. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many people have been arrested or prosecuted for violence during the pickets? Will he say whether hauliers who engage in peaceful protests have been or will be threatened with the removal of their operating licences? Have special branch officers been used to spy on fuel protesters' meetings? If so, was the right hon. Gentleman aware of it, and did he authorise it?

Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many drivers are being trained by the military for the emergency? Will he largely be using members of the Territorial Army? If so, does he not see the supreme irony that many of those troops who are trained Army drivers will in civilian life be tanker and lorry drivers, and that they will therefore be paid by the taxpayer for doing a job that they would have been doing anyway? I want the exact figures—[Interruption.]