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The right hon. Lady asked about designated petrol stations. We drew up a list and, because it had to be done quickly, it contained some inaccuracies. We have taken steps since to ensure that the list of those that could be used in the event of further disruption is more accurate. The right hon. Lady asked about people with disabilities. I understand the point, and I have to say that the disabled suffered disruption to their lives not because of action that we took, but because of actions taken by people whom the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has described as "fine upstanding men."
The right hon. Lady accused us of being out of touch. I do not want to intrude on her private grief within her own party, but I am tempted to do so. When it comes to being out of touch not only with the country but with the Conservative party, the right hon. Lady takes first prize for what happened at her party conference. Before she tries to extract the mote in other people's eyes, she might look at the beam in her own eye.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has visited the Stanlow site with me and is aware that the main artery roads, including those in surrounding villages, are in a major hazard zone. Will he confirm that if there are repeats of the activities that occurred on the nights of 7 and 8 September, everything will be done to remove any blockade that impedes the access of emergency services? The people who took that action were subsequently described as "fine upstanding men", but included some who said that they did not care if Stanlow blew up. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that such action does not happen again, and will he condemn anyone who supports such activity?
Mr. Straw: I wish to record my personal thanks to my hon. Friend for the action that he took as the protests became more substantial. He worked overnight with the police to try to ensure some semblance of supply from the major terminal at Stanlow. On the removal of blockades, my hon. Friend and I held discussions with Shell, the oil company that operates Stanlow, and with Cheshire police. Much effort has been made to ensure that, while people should be able to protest peacefully, they cannot take blockading action as they did previously. My hon. Friend will appreciate that operational decisions are a matter for the chief constable and his constables, and are not a matter for the Home Secretary or any politician.
Of course I condemn the utterly irresponsible statements that were made by some of the protesters at Stanlow. The fact that people, or perhaps only one person, spoke about not caring whether Stanlow blew up underlines the fact that we are dealing not with some inert,
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. There will not be any equivocation from the Liberal Democrat Benches. The Government have a duty to protect the liberty of the protesters, but they equally have a responsibility to protect the liberty and safety of people going about their proper jobs as drivers and employees of the oil industry. They equally have a duty to make sure that essential supplies can get to their destination so that the country is not disrupted by any protest more than any other. It is important that, although fuel protesters should be able to put their case, the country remembers that there are equally those who believe that fuel prices need not be reduced, and that they have a case. We should also remember that pensioners, who may not have lorries, tractors and mobile phones or the ability to mobilise, have just as much right to have their case heard by the Government as the people who just shout more loudly sometimes, whatever the merit of their case.
Will the Home Secretary confirm his responsibilities? Can we take it that his Department will co-ordinate the operation and that all the information that people need will be obtainable from one central place, namely, the Home Office? Can we take it that there will be no confusion this time about where the supplies can be obtained or about who the priority users are, which was clearly a muddle earlier in the year? Can we take it that the Government will have an education campaign to tell people not only how to respond but how to use fuel less and be less fuel-dependent, so that we have a strategically sensible policy followed by the public as well as the Government?
May I check that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that, just as we have to deal with people who, under the guise of being football supporters, are professional troublemakers, we should be equally tough on people using the fuel dispute to be professional troublemakers? Will the police deal with far left and far right groups just as ferociously and ensure that they do not distort the debate?
Mr. Straw: There is scarcely a need for the hon. Gentleman to say that his party has not equivocated on this issue, because that is on the record. I thank him and his colleagues for being able to distinguish between might and right. People have different opinions about fuel prices. It was not until the protests started that the Conservative party changed its view. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish!"] Conservative Members say that it is rubbish. I am sorry that they are not getting the point; so let me repeat it. On "Breakfast with Frost" on 16 July this year, the shadow Chancellor, when asked whether he would give a guarantee that he would reduce the tax on petrol, waffled for a bit while he thought of an answer and then said:
The hon. Gentleman asks that there should be no confusion next time. We shall do our best to reduce the lack of clarity that existed in certain circumstances previously, but we cannot guarantee that no difficulties will arise--precisely because we cannot fully anticipate the exact nature of the disruption. However, during the past seven weeks, we have, of course, tried to learn lessons from the disruption that took place.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about education. However, we must acknowledge that the arrangements that we could set up in an extreme situation could not guarantee continuity of supplies at their current levels--as I have already made clear. Supplies would be significantly reduced.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned professional troublemakers--I exempt the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald from that term. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that she and her right hon. and hon. Friends continue to exhibit extraordinary equivocation.
The hon. Gentleman asked when the order would be renewed. The Order in Council obtained from Her Majesty by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on--I think--8 September has to be renewed before 19 November. It will, I understand, be subject to debate in the House.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): On behalf of all sensible people, I welcome the measures announced by my right hon. Friend. When he next meets representatives from the oil companies, will he remind them that more than three quarters of this year's increase in the price of petrol and diesel resulted from the increases imposed by the companies, and that the ensuing profiteering has been amply demonstrated by Shell's announcement today of profits for the previous quarter that have risen by 80 per cent., compared with those for the same quarter last year? Will he remind the companies that that is all the more reason why the people managing the terminals and depots should make a much better effort than they made in September to ensure that supplies get through? If they do not, the people of this country will think that the companies are incompetent as well as greedy.
As for the profits made by the oil companies, I am sure that representatives of all the oil companies will be listening to this debate and to the comments of my right hon. Friend. It is for them--not for me--to explain the level of their profits.