The new Justice Secretary also said he was ‘open-minded’ on lifting a ban on letting asylum seekers work
Top Tory Dominic Raab has said ex-offenders could help to fill labour shortages as the Government grapples with the ongoing fuel crisis.
The new Justice Secretary suggested letting ex-prisoners and offenders serving community sentences fill the gaps, including a major shortfall of HGV drivers which has led to shortages of fuel at petrol stations.
Mr Raab also said he was “open-minded” on lifting a ban on allowing asylum seekers to work in the UK, which would mark a major shift in stance by ministers.
“We’ve been getting prisoners and offenders to do volunteering and unpaid work,” Mr Raab told The Spectator, in comments carried by The Times.
“Why not if there are shortages encourage them to do paid work where there’s a benefit for the economy, benefit for society?
“If you give people skin in the game, give them something to lose, if you give them some hope, they’re much less likely to re-offend.”
The former Foreign Secretary dismissed Labour’s call for 100,000 migrant visas to be issued to provide sufficient drivers.
He said: “It leaves us reliant in the long-term on the predicament of cheap labour coming in from abroad.
“What that will do is depress wages for aspirational working-class people in this country.”
It comes as motorists faced ongoing shortages at the pumps as a lack of lorry drivers prevented fuel from reaching petrol station forecourts.
Ministers have urged people not to panic buy petrol as fights broke out at the pumps and reports suggested some people were filling up water bottles with fuel.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke insisted that pressures were easing, telling Sky News: “That crisis is now absolutely something which is back under control.”
He also denied that Brexit was to blame for driver shortages after industry figures said extra red tape and taxes linked to the UK’s departure from the EU was a factor.
“I really don’t accept that,” he told the Today programme.
“We have a problem that we need to fix … but one that is shared by other European countries, too.
“The idea that this is about Brexit is to try and take us back into what is really quite a negative conversation about opportunities foregone when, if you look at the situation in… (Europe), they share these problems too.
“We need to work to make sure we have the right labour force to meet them, but it’s not a Brexit conversation, it’s about training and skills.”
“Whether you voted to leave or remain, it was obvious that if we were to leave the EU we would have less HGV drivers than we would otherwise have,” he said.
“I think the British public should be angry and frustrated. This is a total lack of planning. It was predicted and predictable.”
It comes as motorists say there is still not enough fuel despite The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA)’s latest survey of its members finding just over one-in-four had run dry, down from more than a third on Tuesday.
PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said forecourt staff were being subjected to a “high level” of physical and verbal abuse from frustrated motorists.
“There are encouraging signs that the crisis at the pumps is easing, with forecourts reporting that they are taking further deliveries of fuel,” he said.
“However, we are extremely disappointed to hear many forecourt staff are experiencing a high level of both verbal and physical abuse, which is completely unacceptable.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government was sending out vehicles from its reserve tanker fleet, driven by civilian drivers, to provide “additional logistical capacity” to the industry.
“It takes, sometimes, a few days to get troops on the ground,” Mr Kwarteng told reporters.
“We have decided to do that.
“I think in the next couple of days you will see some soldiers driving tankers,” he said in a pooled clip for broadcasters.”
Altogether 150 military drivers, together with 150 drivers’ mates, have been on standby since Monday to carry out deliveries to filling stations.
Official figures show there is a backlog of more than 56,000 applications for vocational driving licences, including HGV and bus permits, waiting to be processed.
Ministers have blamed the pandemic, which led to the cancellation last year of tens of thousands of tests.