1. Lieut.-Colonel Dower
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he proposes to take, in view of the inconvenience suffered by the public through petrol rationing, to relax and later discontinue this control.
§ 5. Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the fact that statistics with regard to stocks of petroleum are freely issued in America and were 4 available, so far as this country is concerned, to the late Government, he can now make arrangements for the immediate publication of figures regarding British stocks; and, if not, on what grounds of military security the withholding of them is still justified
§ 16 and 17. Mr. Turner-Samuels
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) what are the stocks of petrol in the country today; and how do these stocks compare with those held in September, 1938;
(2) what percentage of our petrol comes from the Persian Gulf and Trinidad, which are both in the sterling area; whether these supplies are enough for our needs; and whether we are still dependent for a portion of our supply on the United States.
§ 19. Wing-Commander Hulbert
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is now able to make a statement with regard to the abolition of the restrictions on the sale of petrol..
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Shinwell)
I have now reviewed the question of petrol rationing. Contrary to suggestions which have been made that stocks of petrol in this country are high, the stock position is not satisfactory. Allowing for the present lower level of military requirements the stocks of petrol available for civil consumption at 27th September amounted to 450,000 tons. This is about 40 per cent. of the corresponding stocks held at the end of December, 1938. At the present time there is considerable uncertainty regarding future supplies due to conditions in the U.S.A., from which the bulk of our current supplies has to be obtained.
In considering this question of relaxations in this country it is necessary to bear in mind also the position in other parts of the Commonwealth, where measures for the conservation of petrol supplies have also been taken during the war and which would be affected if we made any relaxation here.
Under conditions which have obtained until recently only negligible quantities of petrol have been brought to this country from sterling sources, including Trinidad and the Persian Gulf. These supplies have been used, in order to conserve tanker tonnage, in areas nearer to the sources of, supply than the United Kingdom. In any 5 event the petrol produced from sterling sources is insufficient to meet the needs of the sterling area. The deficiency can only be met by the purchase of oil from dollar sources; at present the dollar expenditure is very considerable and we must seek to reduce it.
In order to move the quantities of petroleum products which are produced from British controlled sources, we have not sufficient tanker tonnage under the British flag to meet our requirements. We are thus involved, not only in purchasing large quantities of oil products from dollar sources, but in having to pay dollar freights in regard to a material proportion of the tanker tonnage required.
This is why in present circumstances it is not possible to abolish petrol rationing, or to increase the ration at present.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer will cause considerable disappointment, and will he assure the House that he will bear in mind the pressing nature of this question and do everything in his power to explore any sources which may give increased supplies?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I can give that assurance. Nobody is more disappointed than I am at being unable to abolish petrol rationing. It is very costly. The organisation is very comprehensive in character, and I should be glad to bring it to an end. I can assure the hon. Member that as soon as supplies are available petrol rationing will be terminated.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the facts he has just given were known to the Government when they decided to reduce the price of petrol in this country?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Petrol rationing is a distinctive question with nothing whatever to do with the price level. We found ourselves in a position to reduce the price of petrol, and it would have been most injudicious not to have done so.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can tell us—if not now, if I put a Question down will he do so?—where the greatly increased supplies from the Persian Gulf are going; and further, whether, in view of his decision not to let us off petrol rationing, he proposes to take any steps to stop the ever-increasing black market in petrol?
§ Mr. Shinwell
If my hon. Friend cares to put down a Question at any time, I shall do all I can to furnish an answer.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner
Is the Minister aware of the statement of his predecessor that it would only require one extra tanker a week to double the petrol ration in this country?
§ 18. Wing-Commander Hulbert
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that the present rationing of petrol is the cause of an extensive black market in this commodity; and what steps does he propose to take about this.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is impossible under any system of rationing to secure that no irregularities occur. If, however, the lion. Member can furnish any specific evidence in regard to black market operations, I should be glad to receive it.
§ Wing-Commander Hulbert
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this racket is very widely practised and a great many cars appear to be averaging about 200 miles to the gallon?
§ Mr. Shinwell
We keep a very close watch on the situation and when we receive evidence that can be substantiated we refer the matter to the proper authorities, but if the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member has any information I would like to have it.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that in almost every town every motorist, without exception, knows where he can get black market petrol, and do not his officers also have the same information?