HC Deb 06 November 1947 vol 443 cc1989-96
32. Sir Frank Sanderson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what he estimates the saving in dollars will be by the discontinuance of the basic ration for petrol; and what percentage of saving it will bear in relation to our total estimated trade deficit.

Mr. Gaitskell

As I have already informed the House, the estimated dollar saving is £7,500,000 at prices ruling when the decisions were taken. At present prices, which have risen, the saving is estimated at about £9 million. On the basis of this latter figure, the saving represents, approximately, 2 per cent. of our current total dollar deficit.

Sir F. Sanderson

Is the Minister aware that there are large numbers of ex-Service men who have commenced small businesses up and down the country which are directly and indirectly dependent upon the motor industry; and, in view of their-frustration and alarm at what has taken place, will the Minister say what he proposes to do to save these men from chaos and ruin?

Mr. Gaitskell

Naturally, the Government regret any hardship that may have been caused by this decision, and they fully appreciate that there may be hardship in individual cases, but the overriding need of the dollar situation is such' that I am quite unable to reverse the decision taken.

Mr. Tolley

Will my right hon. Friend say how he arrives at the net saving, in view of the fact that very large numbers of supplementaries have been promised; and could he say what the actual saving in dollars would be?

Mr. Gaitskell

I gave the explanation on that point in my speech the other night. We estimate that the gross saving on the basic ration is 960,000 tons. We shall have to provide something like another 160,000 tons for additional supplementary rations. That gives us a net saving of 800,000 tons, which is equivalent, in value, to the figures I have given.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how he arrives at the figure of 160,00 tons in view of the fact that his offices are still dealing in thousands with these supplementary applications; does it mean that they have been considered in advance, without their merits being taken into account at all?

Mr. Gaitskell

They are estimates based on our experience since the abolition of the basic ration.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Minister say whether the saving he has just described does not amount to about 4 per cent. of the total output of Abadan, and does not the way out of the difficulty lie in that direction?

Mr. Gaitskell

I dealt with the matter very fully the other night, and there is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with it.

33. Mr. Gerald Williams

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is his policy in regard to the use of petrol for attendance at agricultural shows.

70. Mr. D. Marshall

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether special petrol allowance will be made available in the interests of Agriculture for attending Agricultural Shows.

Mr. Gaitskell

Regional petroleum officers are authorised to grant petrol allowances to farmers and others engaged in agricultural work for travelling by private car or motorcycle to agricultural shows where the use of public transport for the journey is impracticable. Allowances for this purpose are also authorised in the case of officials and others responsible for the organisation of these shows. I am afraid I cannot grant allowances of petrol to the general public for this purpose.

Mr. Williams

Will the Minister say whether that includes the transport of horses and exhibitors for the purpose of giving jumping exhibitions and other shows, and whether, in view of the fact that petrol is probably being granted to 80 per cent. of the people who want to go to agricultural shows, it would not have been better to have left us with the basic ration?

Mr. Gaitskell

So far as I am aware, the categories mentioned by the hon. Member in the first part of his question are covered by the statement I have made. I have already explained that I cannot go back on the decision.

Mr. Marshall

Will the Minister say whether he has, in fact, received the communication I sent him, and whether there is any possibility of his considering an extra ration of petrol for the public for what one may call the "great" agricultural shows, because there is a certain degree of difference between the two?

Mr. Gaitskell

I am afraid that I cannot add anything to the statement I have made. To distinguish between one show and another would not be an easy task.

Mr. York

Will the Minister instruct his regional officers to allow the applications of such organisations as the Young Farmers' Club, many of which have their meetings and their members within towns?

Mr. Gaitskell

There is a Question on the Order Paper about that very matter.

36. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what alteration has been made in the grant of petrol allowances to military and civilian personnel on leave from overseas.

Mr. Gaitskell

As part of the economies in the use of petrol made necessary by our balance of payments position, it has been decided that the special petrol allowances which have been granted to Service personnel and British civilians on leave in this country must be discontinued. In order to enable due notice to be given to those concerned, allowances will continue to be issued up to 30th November, the coupons being marked valid for use until 31st December, 1947, or the date of expiry of the leave, whichever is earlier.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the amount of the saving he expects to obtain from this blow to a great many people who serve in the public interest?

Mr. Gaitskell

No, Sir. But I must point out to the House that we are in a very serious economic position, and that it is necessary to secure every economy. We have, despite great opposition—and very natural opposition—decided to abolish the basic ration. These allow ances were given in very different circum stances, for officers returning from active service—

Major Tufton Beamish

Why only officers?

Mr. Gaitskell

—and for civilians who returned on leave after being absent from this country for many years, and I do not think that there is a reasonable case for maintaining them in present circumstances.

Captain Marsden

May I suggest that those who bring their cars from overseas should get a petrol allowance from the port of disembarkation to their own homes?

Mr. Gaitskell

A man bringing a car home with him is entitled to an allowance for that purpose.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many Britishers work for his country in bad climates and come to this country on leave; and will he consider placing them in the same position as Americans or any other foreigners who come here on leave?

Mr. Medland

They can take a bus.

Air-Commodore Harvey

On a point of Order. May I have an answer to my supplementary question?

Mrs. Jean Mann

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he intends to notify Government Departments that we are in a serious economic position?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On a point of Order. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's failure to justify this decision, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

37. Sir T. Moore

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, whether he is satisfied that it is impossible to obtain sufficient extra petrol from the sterling areas to enable the basic ration to be maintained.

Mr. Gaitskell

As I explained to the House on 29th October, the motor spirit produced by British controlled companies is appreciably less than the requirements of the sterling area as a whole. To divert additional supplies to the United Kingdom would, therefore, mean higher dollar expenditure on oil by other parts of the sterling area and would, therefore, produce no net saving in dollars for the area as a whole.

Mr. Stokes

If I put a Question down, will my right hon. Friend tell us what the requirements are in the sterling area?

Mr. Gaitskell


Mr. George Ward

May I ask whether any other countries in the sterling area are cutting out their basic ration, or are we carrying the whole burden of these cuts?

Mr. Gaitskell

I would like to have notice of that question, but I must point out that we do not directly control the internal affairs of other countries.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

Why is it that a year ago we were importing 25. per cent. of our petrol from Iran and; paying for it in sterling, and now we are importing only 3.7 per cent., while we get 62 per cent. from the dollar areas? It seems extraordinary.

Mr. Gaitskell

I would prefer to see the question on the Order Paper, but I must point out that these decisions rest very largely on the tanker position and that is probably the explanation.

Mr. Grimston

Did the right hon. Gentleman have any consultation with other Governments in the Dominions before this decision was taken here?

Mr. Gaitskell

As far as I know, it is not the custom of His Majesty's Government to reveal their consultations—[HON, MEMBERS: "Oh."]—or the contents of their discussions with other Governments. I was going on to point out that as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there have been discussions very recently with the sterling area countries, on how to secure the maxi mum economy in dollars. Whether or not precisely this matter was discussed, I am afraid I do not know.

38. Sir T. Moore

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the widespread resentment amongst the public, the disastrous effect on small garages and petrol stations and the chaotic conditions it will impose on public transport, he will reconsider his decision to abolish the basic petrol ration.

Mr. Gaitskell

No, Sir. While appreciating the inconvenience and even hardship which, in individual cases, the abolition of the basic ration may involve, I regret that for the reasons I gave in the Debate on 29th October, I cannot reconsider this decision.

Sir T. Moore

Is it then the considered opinion of His Majesty's Government that the saving of a few million pounds' worth of dollars is adequate compensation for disrupting the whole social and industrial life in the country?

Mr. Gaitskell

I would not accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I have pointed out before that we cannot fairly use the argument that it is only a little amount. That could be applied to every saving that we make in dollars in every sphere, and if we followed the course suggested by the hon. Member we should never achieve a balance of payments.

Mr. Mikardo

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you, for my guidance, kindly to let me know how many times a week over the next few months it will be permissible to repeat the Debate we had on this subject last week?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of Order. If Questions are submitted which have already been answered, they are not accepted at the Table. If a Question raises a new point it is in Order to ask that Question, and if supplementaries get too wide I do my best to control them.

Mr. Beswick

Are we to understand, Mr. Speaker, that there is no Question on the Order Paper today which does not repeat a point that was answered last week?

Mr. Speaker

They may have repeated a point, but I feel sure they are in Order, because otherwise they would not have got through on to the Order Paper.

Sir F. Sanderson

Does the Minister regard it as profitable to destroy what is estimated as £300 million worth of business for the sake of £7 million worth of petrol?

Mr. Gaitskell

The hon. Gentleman has a Question on that matter on the Order Paper. I do not accept that estimate, but I must tell the House that it would be impossible to achieve a balance of payments without somewhat affecting the turnover of those who supply goods and services which, in present circumstances, cannot be regarded as essential in the home market.

42. Commander Noble

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what will be the dollar saving of the basic petrol cut after the granting of supplementary and other coupons.

Mr. Gaitskell

When the decision to abolish the basic ration was taken, it was estimated that after allowing for additional supplementary allowances there would be a saving in dollars equivalent to approximately £7½ million a year. Since then world petrol prices have risen and the saving should amount to £9 million a year if prices continue at their present level.

Commander Noble

While the Minister will, no doubt, appreciate that this Question was on the Order Paper before last week's Debate, may I ask him whether his original estimate has, in fact, been substantiated after the many claims put forward?

Mr. Gaitskell

It would be much too early to say whether the estimate will or will not prove to be accurate. We must wait and see.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman say if, in computing these figures, he has taken into account the great loss of dollars arising from the harm done to the export drive of goods from this country as a result of the basic cut?

Mr. Gaitskell

I could not for one moment accept that any harm will be done to the export drive of this country.

44. Wing-Commander Hulbert

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if motorcars used by Government Departments, other than Service Departments, will be subject to a reduction in petrol allowance after 30th September; and, whether similar reductions will be applied to the motorcars used by the National Coal Board and other nationalised industries.

Mr. Gaitskell

Yes, Sir.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what saving the National Coal Board will effect, and if he is aware that this is the first time that the Minister of Fuel and Power has accepted responsibility for any actions of the Coal Board?

Mr. Gaitskell

It is not a question of accepting responsibility for the National Coal Board; but a question of accepting responsibility for allowances to the National Coal Board. The National Coal Board are treated in this matter in precisely the same way as any other business firm.