HC Deb 13 June 1950 vol 476 cc24-7
46. Mr. Black

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the Prime Minister of New Zealand was not officially informed of the decision to abolish petrol rationing in the United Kingdom; and what action he proposes to take.

47. Mr. Prescott

asked the Prime Minister why the New Zealand Government were not consulted prior to petrol rationing being abolished in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement generally on what consultations took place with Dominion and Colonial Governments before this decision was taken by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

99. Sir J. Mellor

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations why the United Kingdom Government, having requested the New Zealand Government to continue petrol rationing, failed to inform them of the intention to abolish rationing in Britain.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker)

I have been asked to reply. In accordance with practice, we informed other Commonwealth Governments, through our High Commissioners, of the discussions which were proceeding and which led to the decision to abolish petrol rationing in the United Kingdom. In the small hours of 26th May, further telegrams were sent to our High Commissioners notifying the decision, which at that point was even then subject to final confirmation. In the case of the telegram to New Zealand, an unfortunate combination of circumstances resulted in the delivery of the telegram to the High Commissioner's Office being delayed until after the announcement had been made in the House. An explanation was given to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who entirely accepted it.

I understand that Colonial Governments were notified after the announcement had been made.

Mr. Prescott

Is it not apparent from the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given that no preliminary discussions took place with our Dominions or with the Colonies and that all that was intimated to the Dominions was that something might happen in future; and does this not show a lamentable lack on the part of the Government of full collaboration with our Dominions, particularly when we had requested earlier that they should retain petrol rationing in the interests of the whole sterling area?

Mr. Gordon-Walker

No, Sir. I think the question shows a lack of knowledge on the part of the hon. Member about the way in which consultations are carried on in the Commonwealth. It is the normal thing to inform Commonwealth Governments, as was done in this case, of the discussions that were going on in this country, and it was of course up to them, as it always is, to reply to or to comment on that information.

Mr. Eden

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is also the normal practice to inform Dominion Governments in advance of their learning this kind of information from the Press, and in view of the very loyal co-operation which New Zealand, whatever the political colour of their Government, have always shown us, will not the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that a mistake of this kind will not occur again?

Mr. Gordon-Walker

I have already taken steps to make sure that this particular set of accidents, which was very extraordinary, does not occur again. It concerned a very narrow time limit, and involved a delay of about two hours in delivery in New Zealand, and that made just the difference. We did not have longer than that to inform the Governments at the last stage, although they were informed fully of all the consultations which were going on here and how near we were to reaching that decision.

Sir J. Mellor

What was the "unfortunate combination of circumstances"? This is becoming a familiar phrase from the Government.

Mr. Gordon-Walker

If the House wants me to go into details, there was a delay between the time the telegram was received in the telegraph office in New Zealand and its delivery to one of our High Commission staff. After that, there was another inexplicable and unprecedented delay after it had reached our staff in the High Commission. It has never happened before and it will never happen again.

Mr. Blackburn

If advantage is to be taken of this incident to improve upon the past, would my right hon. Friend consider whether in future it might not be a good thing to inform Colonial Governments as well as Dominion Governments, in advance of statements of this kind?

Mr. Gordon-Walker

That is a question which should be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

In view of earlier communications and in all the circumstances, would it not be a graceful act for the Government to thank Australia for showing the way in the de-rationing of petrol?

Mr. Gordon-Walker

I fail to see how that arises out of any of these three Questions.

Forward to