01/04/2012 07:48 BST

Britain Now 'Better Prepared' For A Petrol Tanker Strike, Says William Hague

Britain is better prepared to withstand a strike by tanker drivers because of the actions taken by the Government over the past week, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday morning.

Ministers have 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.

Unite, the trade union concerned, is now due to enter peace talks at the conciliation service Acas, and has said there will be no action until after the Easter break at the earliest.

However, Mr Hague insisted ministers had been right to warn motorists of the possible threat to fuel supplies.

"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," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"The country is in a better state of preparedness now than it was a week ago for the eventuality of a tanker strike, so I think they have handled that correctly.

"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."

Mr Hague dismissed a call by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude for people to fill up jerry cans with petrol - prompting warnings by the Fire Brigades Union of the safety hazard - as a "technical error".

"Of course the solution to this is for the union in question to call off the strike which is not in the interests of their industry, it is obviously not in the interests of the country as a whole," he said.

Mr Hague also brushed off widespread criticism that the Government was "out of touch" in the wake of a Budget which was attacked for levying a so-called "granny tax" - axing age-related allowances for the over-65s - and imposing VAT on hot pies and pasties.

"I think when critics don't have a substantive alternative to offer, well then they reach for the 'out of touch criticism'," he said.

"Well it is very much in touch with what this country needs and we are going to carry that through to success."

However, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused ministers of deliberately provoking a confrontation with the unions because they wanted to recreate Margaret Thatcher's clash with the miners in the 1980s.

"They created this petrol crisis," she told The Andrew Marr Show. "What they did was they caused a run on the pumps for political reasons because they wanted a 'Thatcher moment'."

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley also defended the Government's handling of the threatened tanker strike.

"It is important for people to prepare. We have got to build resilience in the system and that's what we're doing - building resilience in the system," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"There is no need for anybody to panic, there is no need to be queuing at petrol stations."

He 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.

"I have been on the receiving end of this kind of reporting and I think it's all nonsense frankly," he said.

"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."