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media captionGrant Shapps: "There is plenty of petrol in the country"

There is "no shortage of fuel" and people should be "sensible" and only fill up when they need to, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

It comes amid reports of long queues and closed pumps at filling stations.

Mr Shapps said he was introducing a "big package" of measures, including temporary visas for HGV drivers, to help the situation.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the situation showed a "complete lack of planning" from the government.

Mr Shapps told the BBC's Andrew Marr that the problems with fuel supply were down to panic buying and said the situation would right itself as, unlike shortages of toilet roll at the start of the pandemic, fuel was difficult to store.

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A shortage of lorry drivers has caused problems for a range of industries in recent months, from supermarkets to fast food chains.

Freight industry group Logistics UK estimates that the UK needs about 90,000 HGV drivers – with existing shortages made worse by the pandemic, tax changes, Brexit, an ageing workforce, and low wages and poor working conditions.

Sir Keir said the situation had been known about for years and said "we knew in particular that when we exited the EU there would be a need for a back-up plan to deal with the situation."

He said Boris Johnson needed to say what he was going to do about the situation on Sunday.

Asked if he would bring in 100,000 foreign drivers, Sir Keir said: "We have to issue enough visas to cover the number of drivers that we need."

image source, PA Media

Under plans to limit supply disruption in the run up to Christmas up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers could receive three-month UK visas, the government announced on Saturday.

Logistics UK welcomed the policy calling "a huge step forward in solving the disruption to supply chains".

But the British Chambers of Commerce said the measures were the equivalent of "throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire", while the Road Haulage Association said the announcement "barely scratches the surface".

image captionA survey from earlier this year suggests a number of reasons for the driver shortage

Mr Shapps said the Covid pandemic had created a problem by preventing tests for new HGV drivers and Ministry of Defence examiners were being drafted in to help increase testing capacity.

He said he did not want to "undercut" British workers by bringing in foreign workers but could not "stand by and watch while queues are forming".

Mr Shapps said the government did not want to be reliant on overseas labour in the long term but said he had acted to reassure people in the short term.

"I'm doing some things we wouldn't necessarily have wanted to do because we believe in fixing this market for the long term so the drivers are paid better, and we welcome that – we think it is a good idea for drivers to be paid more and for conditions to be better," he said.

Other measures include sending nearly one million letters to drivers who hold an HGV licence, seeking to encourage them back into the industry.

In recent days, some fuel deliveries have been affected, leading to lengthy queues at petrol stations – with reports of dozens of cars queuing in London by 07:00 BST on Sunday morning.

While Mr Shapps urged people to buy fuel as normal he also blamed the current supply issues on "irresponsible briefing" by one of the road haulage associations, which he said had "seemed to have got this going".

He said there had been a shortage of drivers for some time, "this is not anything new" but said once you tell people there is a shortage they "tend to react".

The Road Haulage Association spokesman Rod Mckenzie told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House that it was "absolute nonsense" that he was the source of the leak, as reported in the Mail on Sunday.

He said it was a personal attack and added that the government's visa scheme was just "scratching the surface" of the problem.

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