Fuel tanker strike talks set to begin

It is hoped Acas talks will help resolve the fuel tanker drivers' dispute

Preparations are due to start today for talks to resolve the fuel tanker drivers' dispute which lead to panic petrol buying across the UK.

The conciliation service Acas will be briefed in an attempt to get a deal to end a threatened strike.

The Unite union, which represents over 2,000 tanker drivers, are calling for strike action over health and safety issues.

The talks come after ministers faced intense criticism for urging motorists to keep their petrol tanks topped up, prompting a wave of panic-buying at filling stations across the country.

Queues have now shortened on petrol forecourts after the government issued new advice, telling motorists there was "no urgency" to top up tanks, after Unite ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter.

On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary William Hague defended the Government's handling of a possible strike.

He told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show ministers had been right to warn motorists of the possible threat to fuel supplies.

Mr Hague said:

"Had they not set out the precautions that people should take and alerted people to the situation, then, if the strike took place in the coming weeks, it would be said that they were complacent and hadn't prepared the country," "I think my colleagues have done absolutely the right thing to urge people to take sensible precautions and I think they will be vindicated by events over the coming days."

The latest figures show that the volume of petrol sold has fallen after a high on Thursday.

RMI Petrol, the organisation representing 5,500 independent UK forecourts said that sales of unleaded petrol were up 172% on Thursday but by Saturday this increase had fallen to 18%.

An AA spokesman said panic buying had "dramatically dropped", adding: "I think where there has been a problem, it has been waiting for petrol stations to be replenished and some drivers have interpreted that as a continued problem."

A closed petrol station in Charlton, south east London Credit: PA

Meanwhile, Labour MPs have called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced a barrage or criticism from fire experts since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.

Diane Hill, 46, from York, is in a 'critical' condition in hospital with 40% burns after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another, setting fire to her clothing.

Diane Hill suffered 40% burns after the accident in her kitchen. Credit: Facebook

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has dismissed reports that Mr Maude had been urged to resign by two Conservative Cabinet ministers after breaking from the agreed Government line and calling on people to stock up on petrol.

He told Sky News' Murnaghan programme:

"I have been on the receiving end of this kind of reporting and I think it's all nonsense frankly. "It was nonsense when they said Cabinet ministers were saying the Health Bill was a disaster and I had to go and I think it is nonsense when they say this about Francis Maude."