HC Deb 19 May 1950 vol 475 cc1510-606

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Arbuthnot (Kent, Dover)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the continued failure of His Majesty's Government to make available adequate supplies of petrol at a time when large petroleum resources exist both outside and inside the sterling area. In moving this Motion, I propose to divide my remarks into three categories: first, to deal with the present position of petrol; second, to say a word or two about rationing as it affects particular categories of users; third, to go into the question of possible sources of supply which might be able to make rationing unnecessary.

The whole of the petrol situation today seems to me to be governed by the fact that in the last 18 months world supplies of petrol have not only overtaken but have exceeded the demands, with the result that in the United States, in Venezuela and Saudi-Arabia it has been found necessary to curtail the amount of petroleum being produced. That increase in supply has naturally allowed derationing in a large number of countries, including, incidentally, several countries in the sterling area. They have derationed in France, Italy, Australia, Norway and Sweden, and in the case of India and New Zealand, where petrol rationing still continues, it is on a very much more generous scale than in this country.

In fact, we are in a position where our petrol rationing is more severe than in any other democracy in the world. Anyone coming down from Mars, not knowing what the situation was, might think, if he landed in this country and saw our petrol situation, that we had lost the war and not that Britain had stood alone at a time when the other democracies were gathering themselves together to help us in the fight, and gradually collected together the resources with which to win it against the forces of tyranny.

It is on the cards, I believe, that some Members opposite may feel inclined to suggest today that they welcome the efforts made by His Majesty's Government. Before they commit themselves in this way, I think it might be worth reviewing precisely what the efforts of the Government have been and precisely what success they have met with. In June, 1945, before the Socialist Party came into power, we had a basic petrol ration of 150 miles a month. By March, 1946, it went up to 180 miles a month. August, 1946, saw it at 270 miles per month. On 1st October, 1947, His Majesty's Government had to announce that they had made another of their famous mistakes and had to abolish the basic ration altogether. In June, 1948, petrol rationing was reintroduced at the rate of 90 miles a month for the basic rate, while in 1949 and 1950, we have seen a doubled ration for the three summer months.

The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to announce that the basic ration was to be doubled, that is to say, that the reintroduced 90 miles per month of June, 1948, was to be doubled. We are, in fact, in the same position today as in the middle of 1946, with the exception of the fact that our petrol is costing us 9d. more because the Chancellor has put up the tax. Therefore, before hon. Members opposite suggest that the Government have done well and start patting themselves on the back and preening themselves, they might think of the reaction there will be in their constituencies. Every word uttered in this important Debate will be weighed very carefully. If hon. Gentlemen opposite say they are pleased with what they have done, there may be a great temptation on the part of their constituents—let us remember that this is a burning problem as well as a motoring problem—to use some of the scanty basic ration for other purposes than those for which it was originally granted.

Our position in Britain is that last year we used 4,567,000 tons of petrol. Divided into the various categories of user, we find that Government Departments and the Services together accounted for 182,000 tons. Industrial and commercial users, that is to say users of red petrol, accounted for 2,885,000 tons, or 63 per cent. of the total used in the country, and the private user consumed 1,500,000 tons or 32 per cent. of the total. That 32 per cent. was divided between the standard ration and the supplementary allowance, the standard ration accounting for 470,000 tons, or 10 per cent., and the supplementary allowance accounting for 1,030,000 tons, or 22 per cent. of the total British consumption.

That brings me to the second stage of my argument, the examination of rationing as it affects the different categories of users. I do not think anybody would suggest that it was necessary to ration petrol to control its use by Government Departments and the Services. Such petrol can be controlled by other means. The discipline of Government Departments and the Services should be adequate to ensure that petrol is not wasted. When we come to the commercial and industrial users, members of the Government, unfortunately, do not seem agreed among themselves. That obvious disagreement is leading to considerable disquiet throughout the country. The nation is beginning to wonder whether the Government knows whether the abolition of commercial and industrial rationing of petrol would or would not create an increase in its use.

Speaking in this House on 18th April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the increase in the duty would lead to restraint in the use of petrol in commercial vehicles. He was saying, in other words, that the governing factor in the amount of petrol used was not rationing but the price that had to be paid for petrol. I believe that the Chancellor was absolutely right. After all, red petrol cannot be used for private purposes—in any case, who wants to take his family around in a six-ton lorry? Therefore, it is unnecessary to ration red petrol. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the free road hauliers have to exercise considerable economy in their use of industrial and commercial petrol. If they did not, their businesses would deteriorate rapidly and they would fail to make a profit. It is possibly because of this exercise of stringent economy in the use of industrial petrol that the private road hauliers are being such a thorn in the flesh of the Government-sponsored organisations.

I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was absolutely right, but the Minister of Fuel and Power does not seem to agree with him. Talking in the House on 1st May, he said that the derationing of petrol would lead to an increase in consumption. If that is so, I want to ask him one or two questions. Will he explain to the House exactly the mechanism by which the Road Haulage Executive is rationed at the present time? Has there been, as a result of the rationing of red petrol, a curtailment in the use of red petrol by the Road Haulage Executive? If so, how much has that curtailment amounted to? If, on the other hand, there has been no curtailment in the use of red petrol by the Road Haulage Executive, does the same apply to its immediate competitors the free road hauliers, or is the advantage of having free red petrol being used by the Government to support the Road Haulage Executive and gradually to wipe out of business the small road hauliers?

Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with that point, I would ask him to look at a statement by his predecessor. If he persists in saying that the de-rationing of red petrol will lead to an increase in consumption he will not only be at loggerheads with the Chancellor of the Exchequer but also with his predecessor who said, on 24th April: It is, in practice—I have always admitted this—extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ration commercial vehicles by the coupon system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 640.] I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not contradict his colleagues, but will find himself able to agree with them that the rationing of red petrol is entirely unnecessary, and that he will be able to do away with it.

That brings me to the last category of user—the private car user. It is quite clear that it would be in this sphere that the main increase in consumption would take place if petrol rationing were abolished straightaway, as I think it should be, and I feel that it is the duty of the House to try to assess what that increase would really amount to. At present, there are in the country 2,100,000 private cars and 600,000 motor bicycles. Our pre-war experience shows that with no rationing at all, the average car uses a ton of petrol a year and the average motor bicycle rather less than half that amount; so that on that basis, without rationing, we would require a total importation of 2,400,000 tons of petrol for these private users—that is to say, only 600,000 tons more than the current consumption by private cars. The total gap to be filled, therefore, is merely 600,000 tons of petrol a year. If we succeed in bridging that gap, we shall gain enormous advantages.

First, we should save, straight away, over £1 million in the cost of petrol rationing on the Government side alone, to say nothing of the saving to private firms and others. We should release 2,300 civil servants, who would be able to go into productive work, expanding output and helping to bridge the dollar gap. Not only that; we should be stimulating private enterprise by taking away that irksome time-wasting restrictive rationing system, in respect of which it is impossible for anyone to assess exactly how much time is being wasted.

In addition, we should be helping the tourist industry, which is one of the most valuable industries from the point of view of our invisible export trade. If the tourist industry is to be successful, it must have a full home demand throughout the year to enable it to cater efficiently for foreigners when they come to this country, which all of us wish. My only other point in this connection is that freedom from rationing would restrict the temptation to people from this country to travel abroad. Those who do so are spending foreign currency, and the main attraction encouraging them to travel abroad is that they can have motoring without the irksome restrictions of rationing which prevail here. In this way, therefore, we should save foreign exchange.

That brings me to the third section of my remarks. Why do we not de-ration petrol straightaway? Members of the Government have put forward two main reasons against de-rationing. The first is that which was voiced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, as he then was; he has since gone to the Admiralty. Speaking at Cross Hands, in Carmarthenshire, on 10th February, presumably with the full authority of the Government, he said: The abolition of petrol rationing would throw thousands out of work. I must admit that we on this side have suspected for some time that one of the reasons for the continuance of rationing was to give people something to do, but we have never put it quite as bluntly as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. We have never even attacked the Government on these dubious means which they seem to be employing to maintain and sustain full employment. We were not surprised, however, when the hon. Gentleman was translated with almost indecent haste to a Department in which petrol played very little, if any, part.

The second reason put forward by the Government against the de-rationing of petrol is the balance of payments. The Government are often critical of Members on this side and suggest that we are irresponsible in some of our statements. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If the Government feel this way, the fault lies entirely with the Government themselves for concealing the facts. If the Government were to give the country a clear picture of the petrol situation, they might have some ground on which to base their arguments.

I do not know how many Members who are now present were at the Debate in the House on 29th March. What struck me most on that occasion was that the statesmanlike review of the current facts and of the world production position came not, as one was entitled to expect, from the Government benches, but from my right hon. Friend the Member for the King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd). The country is very much indebted to him for giving some of the facts in that way and for having so clearly put the picture, which the Government have singularly failed to do.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

The hon. Member talks about concealing the facts. A few moments ago he made statements about the Road Haulage Executive seeming to have unlimited amounts of petrol in comparison with private hauliers. Has the hon. Member any facts to show that that is the case?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I did not make one or two statements—I asked one or two questions. I want now to substantiate further that statement that we are not getting the facts. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the Question which I asked him earlier this week. I admit that it was asked with a certain amount of malice aforethought, because I wanted some ammunition for today's Debate. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the dollar content of petrol which came from various areas. Instead of answering the Question which was put down, the Minister answered an entirely different question and stated that the average dollar content of the sterling oil imported into this country was 30 per cent. If the Minister knows what is the average dollar content, presumably he knows the various factors which go to make it up and, therefore, he was in a position to have answered my Question directly had he wished to do so. This is just another instance of the Government not telling the country the facts.

For all those reasons, I make a further appeal to the Minister. I cannot help feeling that in the short time I have been in this House he has made a singularly able Ministerial impersonation of a cuttle fish. He has been spewing out inky verbiage, which has hidden the true facts and enabled him to slide away without telling the country either the Government's intentions or the facts of the situation. Neither the House nor the country is interested merely in the average dollar content. The interesting point, on which we should like a straight answer from the Minister, is, what is the dollar content in those areas where the dollar content is lowest and what steps are the Government taking to try to expand the production of petroleum in those areas to give us a greater amount of petrol?

I should like to draw the Minister's particular attention to the position in the Middle East. I suggest to him—I may be wrong and I hope he will correct me if I am—but I suggest to him that the average dollar content of the sterling petrol which is coming from the Middle East is somewhere about 10 per cent., and I suggest to him that if he takes the particular instance of Kuwait, which was one of the places mentioned in my Question that he slid out of the other day, he will find that the dollar content of the petroleum coming from there is considerably less than 10 per cent.—I think, probably, 2 per cent., if even that, because there is no gold clause in the contract so far as Kuwait is concerned. What we feel here is that we are not getting the information.

From what we can see of the position we think that there is an area from which we could get petrol without incurring a terrific dollar expenditure. The Middle East and Kuwait is the area on which we should concentrate, because in Kuwait, as my right hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton pointed out, the expansion possibilities, although they may possibly be long-term, are very considerable: production could be stepped up from 20 million tons to somewhere near 50 million tons in time. What action are the Government taking, in conjunction with others also concerned in Kuwait, to try to expand production there?

We are also gravely concerned about the position in Haifa. I do not pretend to know the details of the negotiations that have been carried on, or all the difficulties, but I do think that the House is entitled to a fair statement from the Minister. I have no doubt that these points will be expanded by hon. Members on this side of the House who have a greater knowledge than I have of them. At first blush it seems to be an absolutely absurd position that we in this country are sending aircraft to Egypt at the same time as that country is ignoring international law—violating international law—by refusing to allow our tankers to go through the Suez Canal. I suggest to the Minister that if the Government had pursued a stronger line of action our tankers would now be passing through the Suez Canal and we could, in fact, have the Haifa refinery going.

The Haifa refinery is of enormous importance. It can, in fact, deal with 4,000,000 tons of petroleum which means 800,000 tons of petrol a year. If one compares that 800,000 tons of petrol with the figure of 600,000 tons which we need in this country to solve our petrol difficulties, we see that there they are very largely solved at the outset. But the sad fact is that from one cause and another—and the entire responsibility for it cannot be shuffled off the shoulders of the Government—the position at Haifa is far from good. "The Times" on the tenth day of this month said: It is feared that, in spite of careful maintenance, another winter of idleness would reduce the efficiency of the plant to such an extent that the cost of renovation and replacement might be prohibitive. … The refinery now presents a sad picture of desolation; bushes and weeds flourish in the cracks of the concrete flooring, and a sapling has entwined itself about the support of the distillation unit. One cannot help feeling that the standstill at the Haifa refinery is a direct reflection of the inertia of His Majesty's Government.

There is one final point I should like to make. I wish to draw special attention to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton when he was speaking in the Debate on 29th March. He made a valuable suggestion to the Government which received extremely scant acknowledgment from the Parliamentary Secretary who replied. My right hon. Friend said this: His Majesty's Government should suggest to the United States that the leaders of both the American and British industries should be asked to come together, in proper association with Government representatives, to see whether they can work out, jointly, a solution of the considerable difficulties that face everyone concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1950; Vol. 473. c. 517.] I suggest that in dealing with the Americans we are not dealing with an alien race. We and the Americans are of one blood; we speak the same language; our gallant men have fought together and died together on battlefields the world over; and our main objective is the same. I trust, therefore, that the Minister, when he is replying to this Debate, will not again brush aside my right hon. Friend's proposal; but that he will take it up and pursue it with vigour, keeping Parliament fully informed. To my mind, along this road lies the solution of our problem.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. Leather (Somerset, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

In the short time during which I shall address the House, I want to tackle this problem from the point of view of the ordinary consumer—the ordinary chap of whom, after all, we here are the representatives. There are some of us in this House who are specialists on this subject, but the great majority of us are, I think, interested in this matter from the point of view of our own constituents. From the point of view of the ordinary working chap, of the man in the street, there are, I suggest to the Minister, a good many things we do not like about his present policy—to put it mildly. In the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has said, it is another element in the Government's programme of constantly forcing up our cost of living—a small element but a specific one. If the Government are to start to cut the cost of living they could start with petrol.

In the rationing of red petrol it is a case of control for control's sake and no other reason. Let me reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend about the question of the standard ration. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are often very happy in talking about luxury driving, the Rolls Royce trade, and all the rest of it. The Government have shown clearly that what may be called pleasure driving of all kinds consumes a mere 10 per cent. of the country's supplies. Therefore, that is not the problem we are dealing with; and we, after all, have not shown the sympathy with luxury and the Rolls Royce trade that hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite have done, for we have not been responsible for halving the Purchase Tax on luxury cars while refusing to make any concession to housewives in respect of their home necessities.

There is the question of the cost of the administration of this scheme. In the Government's financial terms the sum of £1 million is a mere bagatelle, but I am an ordinary taxpayer, and to me it is a lot of money, and I think it is to most people. On the other side, not only is this an extra cost on industry—I refer to the commercial petrol rationing—but this red rationing scheme is what the Chancellor chooses to call a "disincentive." In basic English, as I understand it, that means something that frustrates and annoys and bothers people, and perhaps it is not surprising that we should turn to the Chancellor to find a new word to describe that phenomena.

Let me deal with one or two of the small ways in which this contributes to my additional cost of living. There is the cost of administration. There are well over 1,000 depots throughout this country, and they, every day of the week, have to send by registered post to the regional petroleum officers returns showing everything they have done, and they have to do it in eight different ways. Why? It that really necessary? Is all that cost and fuss and bother—and, heaven knows, the wear and tear on the postmen's boots—really necessary? I cannot believe it.

Then there is the clerical work. It is estimated, and fairly, that in the case of the average small garage proprietor, this rationing scheme doubles his clerical work, doubles his costs, and fuss and bother. It doubles everything—including his temper—except the value and profitability of his business. Is that necessary? What does it achieve? Then there is the factor of distribution costs. The scheme of breaking things down into small coupon lots necessitates distribution companies distributing in small quantities instead of in bulk. They estimate that that adds no less than 10 per cent. to the cost of the petrol. These, frankly, are all small factors; but they mean a penny here and a penny there—and who pays it? We all pay it. It all comes out of our pockets; and I ask the Minister, "For what good purpose?"

May I raise, once again, the case of the downtrodden, much abused, but very valuable commercial traveller? In this matter those of us representing country constituencies are up against a brick wall. The scales are laid down by the Ministry. They do not say, "What do you have to do to earn your living? How far do you have to travel to do your job?" They say, "How big is your car?" and if your car is x horsepower you get x coupons. That has no relation to how far the traveller has to go. In the West Country that is a serious problem. The Minister surely does not believe that a commercial traveller in my constituency, who may have to cover distances from Reading to Land's End, is expected to earn a fair living on the same petrol scale as a chap who is working between Barking and Putney? It just is not right.

This is a typical case where civil servants are being put in an impossible position. I am sure that my hon. Friends and those hon. Members opposite who come from my part of the world, will agree that in Bristol we have an excellent regional petroleum officer. He is a loyal and faithful servant to the Ministry, but he will be in a mental home if the Minister does not help him before long. He is asked to deal with this impossibly rigid scheme. Would not the Minister review the scales for commercial travellers? The basis on which they are worked out at present is putting those unfortunate civil servants, the regional petroleum officers, in an impossible position. The mail which hon. Members of this House receive is polite, compared with what they have to put up with—though whether that applies to Government's mail or not I do not know.

My hon. Friend referred to figures and statistics, and asked if the Government would give us the facts. There is one more point on which I would like to ask the Minister for figures. We are told that the policy of the Government is to keep down the dollar content, and to export as much sterling petrol as there is available for much needed foreign exchange. As a general principle one cannot disagree with it, but are not we entitled to ask, "For what foreign exchange?" If it is dollars, yes, of course. If it is any hard currency, or semi-hard currency, or even semi-semi-hard currency, we would say, "Yes." But if it is soft currency, is it really necessary? We do not know, we have no figures. The Government have always refused to give them. Therefore, if we are not allowed to know the truth, if we are not told for what foreign currency this petrol is being exported, we are quite entitled to assume that the Minister has something to hide—and perhaps some of us are uncharitable enough to make that assumption.

I wish to stress to the Minister and to his predecessor a point about the rationing of commercial petrol. I am sure that my hon. Friends and myself are pleased to note that the former Minister has now come into the House. On 24th April he said: it is, in practice—I have always admitted this—extremely difficult, if not impossible to ration commercial petrol by the coupon system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1950; Vol. 474, col. 640.] If it is "difficult, if not impossible," why try to do it? What is the great social purpose that calls for this impossible scheme, with all its frustration and expense? What is the great policy of the Ministry that makes necessary this difficult and expensive scheme?

Is it fair shares? Surely the Government will not tell us that is the great principle; that in the sacred name of fair shares we have to carry out this impossible scheme. Because we on this side of the House have already made it perfectly clear that the major users of petrol are the road hauliers and in road hauling it is not fair shares the Government want—it is all the shares! I submit that the red petrol rationing scheme does not work. There is nothing more annoying to a road haulier, or a farmer or anyone else than to have to go to the trouble of getting these dashed coupons and filling, up forms till he is blue in the face when there are many garages—and the Minister knows it—where the chap says, "I don't want those, I've got plenty." What is the use?

I have here a letter from a constituent of mine, a private enterprise road haulier, I say that confessedly. The firm advertise that they are not nationalised—they are civilised. This letter I received on 15th May. The Minister can relax, I assure him this is a quotation, but it contains no strong language: First we have to complete and submit a form Z/F/5B. We then receive back an allocation of coupons, but, without exception, considerably reduced from what we had applied for, and no explanation given showing on what grounds the cut has been made. To bear out this statement we enclose a few counterfoils in original which we receive back with the coupons. I have them here if the Minister would like to see them. We may mention that we have kept all the counterfoils and they are all reduced in a similar manner. Our petrol requirements are always a very carefully worked out estimate, but in spite of this it is always drastically cut, and this naturally entails applying for a supplementary issue which, according to rules, cannot be issued, unless we fill up form Z/F5A in respect of each vehicle, a copy of which is attached, on which we have to show every load we have done with each vehicle from the date of the last issue of coupons. You will appreciate that this necessitates considerable extra and unnecessary work and more form-filling for which we have not got the time. This in turn is again usually cut and if it is, again involves going through the same procedure as before. That is three times every time they get a ration and it is done every three months; which makes, if my arithmetic is correct, 36 applications a year in order to carry on their business. The letter goes on: These cuts appear to be made merely as a matter of principle rather than for any beneficial reason. This was borne out by the fact that on one occasion, recently, when our application was reduced to half and we rang up the Ministry of Transport (Petroleum Department) and asked why this was done the reply was that, 'Your requirement looked too much.' The balance of coupons was then sent to us the following day. This is not an uncommon experience, it is happening every day of the week to many of our constituents, and hon. Members opposite know it.

These people are not nationalised, they have to operate at a profit. They cannot come to us to make up a deficit at the end of the year. They are not going to buy petrol and burn it up for the fun of it, but for legitimate business needs. Is not an efficient road transport service a vital service for the needs of our country today? The only way one can get that kind of service is under private enterprise, and the Government know it.

May I "recap"? I am very sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power is not here today, because I have no doubt that we should be enlightened and interested by his speech and that he would have ended by proving that we are twice as well off as we have ever been before and we would be better off still if we would only allow him still further to increase the petrol tax. These are some of the points we would put to the Minister. Will he let us have the figures we have asked for? If not, will he explain to the House why not? Will he tell us what vital strategic interest is at stake that prevents him from giving the nation's legislators the facts to which we are entitled?

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

What facts?

Mr. Leather

My hon. Friend put five questions, and I have put three, in which we have asked the Minister for specific figures.

Mr. Paget

I have taken a careful note of the questions in which figures have been asked for, but all the rest were simply rhetorical questions which do not demand an answer. What facts and figures does the hon. Gentleman want?

Mr. Leather

I presume, the figures of which the hon. and learned Member says he has made notes. We want to know to what countries, and for what vital foreign exchanges, this petrol is being imported. We have not been given those figures.

Mr. Paget

They have been given.

Mr. Leather

The hon. and learned Member is wrong. The total may have been given, but there has been no break down of the position—none at all. We want to know the actual figures. We do not want these global averages. The Minister's figures were paraphrased in the United States, when they referred to such figures as "globoloney." They mean nothing. We have asked for the break down. What is the dollar content of various Middle East refineries? We do not know, and the Minister has refused to give us the facts. I repeat, will he tell us?

Will he also explain, and this is not a rhetorical question, but a fair one, why we in this country are worse off than anybody else? Why is it? They have no oil refineries in Iceland, for example, but they seem to be able to get all the petrol they want. Nor are there any in Denmark, and I am told that even in Abyssinia they do not have to ration petrol. If these people can do without rationing, why cannot we? Is it possible that what we have is not a world shortage of petrol but a planned shortage of petrol?

Mr. Paget

Would the hon. Gentleman say if, in any one of the countries he has mentioned, they consume anything like as much petrol per head as we do?

Mr. Leather

No, of course they do not, and they have not anything like the national income with which to buy it, either. My small child can go along very nicely on a tricycle, but I cannot ride a tricycle. It is a bit too small for me.

These questions are not rhetorical questions. We are entitled to answers. I have tried to deal with this matter purely from the point of view of how it affects the ordinary working man. [Laughter.] I am still an active, not a retired, trade unionist. I think that I know a thing or two about work. From the industrial point of view, I submit to the Minister that this "impossible scheme," to use the words of his predecessor, is another constituent in forcing up my cost of living. Are hon. Members opposite impervious to that? Do not they care about the increased cost of living? If not, it would be very interesting to be told. From a personal point of view, the policy of the Government is making motoring the rich man's prerogative, which it was never intended to be and which it ought not to be.

11.55 a.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes His Majesty's Government's efforts to make available more supplies of petrol without increasing our dollar liabilities by a policy of refinery expansion, and by seeking to reduce the dollar cost of oil distributed in the sterling area by American companies. The Psalmist, in a time when there was no Conservative Party, unless the Pharisees qualified for that privilege, spoke of: … wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine … But oil has not made many cheerful countenances on the benches opposite during the past few weeks.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

The hon. Gentleman should look on the benches behind him.

Mr. Hale

I must remind hon. Members opposite that my hon. Friends on this side of the House have just been listening to two rather depressing speeches. Hon. Members opposite will see them cheer up enormously now.

The House may very well be wondering why we are called upon to discuss petrol today for the third time since the inception of this Parliament. One might have thought that there had already been a sufficient demonstration. I was very anxious to know, because my own experience, as a Member for a very large constituency, who has at the moment to handle the correspondence of two constituencies, is that I am just not getting any complaints. Eighteen months or so ago there were many, and one put up complaint after complaint to the petrol rationing authorities—not direct to the Minister. Those complaints were dealt with efficiently and well.

I just cannot understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite to persons who serve the State. There was a time when the Conservative Party used to talk of, "Our Army, our Navy and our Air Force" as great servants of the State. I personally resent this constant tendency to sneer at civil servants who are performing a distasteful task under difficult circumstances.

Mr. Leather

To say that either I or my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) have sneered at civil servants is a gross distortion, and the hon. Member knows it. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about letters from constituents on complaints about petrol, I have had 27 this week. [HON. MEMBERS: "You asked for them."] I did not.

Mr. Hale

If that is the sort of interruption which hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to make, it is hardly worth while giving way. Their comments are within the recollection of the House. We had talk about "over full employment" from an hon. Member who has left the House, in relation to these activities. The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) made references to putting men into something useful, and so on. It is an attitude of mind which we get constantly. I want to be fair about this matter.

Mr. Arbuthnot


Mr. Hale

I will not give way. I must be allowed to finish at least one sentence. I want to be fair about this matter. I tried to find out what was the Conservative Party policy, because we have had every information under the sun about petrol except this. It is true that the mover and seconder of the Motion were not Members of the last Parliament, and they do not appear to have taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the many 'statements issued during the currency of the last Parliament which deal with this problem and give most of the information they want.

I turned up the three volumes of HANSARD preceding the election, to find out what had been said about petrol. There was nothing—not a word; just an odd Question about an individual case. I looked with some distaste to "The Right Road for Britain" which, if hon. Members opposite had their way, would be a very congested road indeed. There was not a mention of petrol. There was not an indication—not as oil, motor spirit or petrol or in any other way. There was not a word. I referred to my vade mecum for the election campaign, the guide published by the Tory Party at 7s. 6d. There are 700 pages of information, all duly indexed, but not a mention of petrol, petroleum, motor spirit, hydrocarbon oils—not a word. And yet we have three Debates immediately after the election. Why do we have them? We have them for the one reason only, and the hon. Member for Dover gave it in his speech. "The Leader has made a speech." We were told in some interesting correspondence in "The Times" some time ago what was the constitutional position. The Leader decides and, the Leader having decided, everybody must follow, even to the point of having three Debates on a subject in which they were hardly interested at all.

The Leader of the Opposition has, of course, made many speeches on many topics. He is entitled to speak in this matter, because he was the founder of the Petrol Duty. I do not know whether it will be within the recollection of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the automobile associations made representations that there should be a tax on petrol instead of the proposed tax on horse-power. They were received by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were told that he was so impressed by their arguments in favour of a tax on petrol that he would accept them, but that he could not reduce the tax on horsepower, and he taxed them both.

That was in 1928. I quote the opening words of that statement, in which the right hon. Gentleman said: It would be easy to give an epitome of the financial year which has closed. The road has lain continually uphill, the weather has been wet and cheerless, and the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury have been increasingly uncheered by alcoholic stimulants. Death has been their frequent companion and almost their only friend. Such is the sombre tale."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1928; Vol. 216, c. 823.] The description of the problem is an important one, because it is quite true to say that it is not a merely post-war problem. Of course, the post-war position and the dollar gap have gravely accentuated our difficulties. The difficulty of increased petrol consumption as part of our economy was a matter to which the right hon. Gentleman gave a timely warning in 1928, although we had to wait until 1947 for any action to be taken upon it. The right hon. Gentleman was then arguing against road transport because it was injurious to rail transport, but I notice that there has been some change of heart on the benches opposite since then. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said about the petrol position in general: During the 19th century the industrial power of our country rested upon the basis of its wonderful coalfields; the 20th century has seen us become increasingly dependent upon imported liquid fuel, scarcely any of which is found inside the British Empire. We paid last year for oil supplies of every kind almost as much as we received for our export of coal. We used to be a source of fuel; we are increasingly becoming a sink."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1928; Vol. 216, c. 854.] That was the statement of the right hon. Member for Woodford in 1928, and, since then, every tendency——

Air-Commodore Harvey

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that since that speech was made, 20 million tons of oil have been produced here and many more could be produced?

Mr. Hale

Many millions of tons of oil have been produced since then, and world production is going up.

I will allow myself to be diverted from my main argument at this stage by making another point in answer to the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), who referred to the increased attention of this party to the owners of high-powered cars. What is the picture? Of course, the number of cars on the road has rapidly increased. It is perfectly true to say that our planning under this Government—[Interruption.] No, I do not mean Government cars. Am I right in assuming that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion knows exactly nothing of the tremendous increase in the number of motor vehicles? I should have thought that he would have known at least one figure. While this Government has been in office, the number of agricultural vehicles has gone up by 800 per cent.; that is since 1945. In those years that preceded the war, from 1935 to 1939, the number of motor cycles, the vehicle of the poorer man, was rapidly going down and fell to 467,000. Since this Government took office, the figure has increased to 640,000. There is no question about that.

There are, of course, a number of facets to this matter, and I hope to deal first of all with the question of administration, about which so much has been said. What are the real facts about the administration of petrol rationing in this country? They can be put quite shortly. In the whole business of petrol rationing, less than 2,000 people are employed all over this country. The hon. Gentleman opposite said quite wrongly that the cost was over £1 million. It costs less than £1 million, and, in point of fact, the effective cost of rationing is exactly half a farthing per gallon over all, or, if we limit it to the petrol for the private motorist, considerably less than a half penny per gallon. I worked out these figures last night, and I am amply satisfied of their accuracy.

Let us now go on to the question of distribution, about which we have not heard so much. It used to be a case of rather special pleading which suggested that there were people who have special privileges in the consumption of petrol. It used to be the Services. Let us have a look at the figures. Out of every £1 spent on motor spirit in this country—I am basing my calculations on the estimated figures for 1950–11s. 11d. worth will go to industrial and commercial vehicles, 7s. 3d. worth to the private motorist, about 5¼d. worth to the Services and 4¾d. worth to the whole of the Government Departments in the country. Those are the figures, and yet, we have heard speech after speech in the past suggesting that, if only the civil servants and the Government would economise, we could send people to Blackpool every weekend in their own private cars. The actual figure is 4¾d. worth, or 2¼ per cent. of the whole consumption.

If we refer to the comparative figures, they show what is really happening in the sphere of distribution, and these figures are even more impressive. From 1948 to 1950, the amount of petrol allocated to industrial vehicles increased by 12½ per cent., the allocation to the private motorist went up by 29 per cent. and the consumption of the Services increased by only 4 per cent., while the amount consumed by Government Departments decreased by 15 per cent. That is the sort of intelligent planning of distribution which we have advocated and which we are bringing about. The hon. Gentleman opposite asked for figures, and we are doing our best.

Let us take the time when this matter had to be initiated, because some hon. Members opposite were not here in 1945 and 1946. It may be, though I do not know, that someone was bearing in mind what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said in 1928 about the necessity of doing something about it. It may be that his words have at last fulminated even after several years, but certainly it is curious that we have not had a word this morning about the Government's important work in connection with the refining of oil in this country. A great new industry of wide economic importance, not only to this country but to the whole sterling area, has been established, and I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not seen some of the relevant documents.

If we take the Economic Survey for 1948, when the scheme was in the early planning stage, we find, in paragraphs 109 and 110: Large capital investment schemes for increasing the supply of British-controlled oil have already been prepared. They are designed eventually to double its output. These schemes cover not only the expansion of crude oil production, but also the erection of refineries both in this country and overseas. They will, however, take some years to mature, and may be delayed in view of the current shortage of steel. Nor it is possible to speed their completion to any large extent by the import of additional petroleum equipment from the United States. For not only dollars, but oil equipment itself is short. That was followed up, in the 1949 Survey, in paragraph 11, by details of the 1949 investment programme for the petroleum industry, which, it was stated, was part of the large scale plan to increase the production of crude oil by British controlled companies from 53 million tons in 1947 to approximately double that amount in 1953. Then, again, we have precise figures in the 1950 Survey which show that capital investment in petroleum has gone up from £9 million in 1948, to £16 million in 1949 and to a prospective total of £32 million for 1950. That was followed—and I am surprised that no reference to it has been made—by the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who gave in detail the results of this work. The hon. Gentleman was able to say—and I should have thought it was a surprise to everybody—that not only was this work going on according to schedule, but that it was 12 months ahead of schedule, which was, as he said, a stupendous achievement. As far as Fawley is concerned, it was originally planned for completion in December, 1952. It is now 12 months ahead of schedule, and will be finished in December, 1951. It will have an output of 5,500,000 tons—an enormous output and an enormous piece of planning. Is there to be no credit given for these great achievements?

Mr. Leather

The hon. Gentleman has made our case extremely well. He has proved how much more petrol is being produced. If it is being produced in such quantity, why not de-ration it?

Mr. Hale

I am sorry if I have not made myself intelligible. I said the project was going to be finished next year. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make an interjection, he might tell us why this vital work was not done in the years before the war, when men were out of work and could have done it.

Mr. Leather

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well why it was not done at that time. The reason was that it would have been a sheer waste of money, because nobody would have used the petrol.

Mr. Hale

I am afraid that I have not the time to cover in detail the whole ground raised in this somewhat all-embracing Motion, but as some reference has been made to the subject of sterling oil, I would refer the hon. Member opposite, not to detailed State documents, but to a quite succinct summary in intelligible language contained in the Economic Digest for July, 1949. It is a summary by Mr. Oscar Hobson, of the "News Chronicle," and it is entitled "Sterling Oil Illusions." It would seem that the illusions have not yet been dispelled. Mr. Hobson says: The public seems to have got some very optimistic ideas"— he might have said the Conservative Party— into its head about the possibility of derationing petrol. They are based mainly on the idea that there is something called 'sterling oil' for which we don't pay dollars and can't get dollars, and which, therefore, we can consume with a good conscience to the limit of what is available. Unfortunately, the 'sterling oil' concept really won't hold water. [Laughter.] I said it was reasonably and readily intelligible; I only had to wait 10 seconds for that point to get over to the other side: ' Sterling oil' does not mean all oil produced in the 'sterling area'. He then goes on to discuss the very point raised by the Parliamentary Secretary in detail in recent Debates. First, we have the Anglo-Iranian Company where there is a 50 per cent. American holding.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

There is not a 50 per cent. holding in the Anglo-Iranian Company. I think, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman meant the Kuwait Oil Company.

Mr. Hale

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the correction. I should have said in the Arabian holding—the Kuwait. It was that to which the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) referred. Apart from that, there is the necessity for ancillary dollar expenditure and that brings me to the question of tankers. There, again, we have to plan tankers. There were not the tankers available. At the end of the war we had a much smaller capacity than before the war, hut what has happened as a result of this plan? During the last few years—those in which this Government were in office—we have increased our tanker capacity by a figure of over one million gross tons. The result is that the plans which were commenced in 1947, and which were proceeded with so well through 1948 and 1949, are now coming to fruition, as they are in other spheres.

In conclusion, I wish to add one further point, and it is right that I should do so. We planned the economic resources of the country based on full employment. There was a reference earlier this morning to "over-full employment," and at some time we should like that phrase explained a little more fully from the benches opposite. One of our problems is that prosperity creates a demand, not only for consumer goods, but also for capital goods. People can afford today to pay for housing, for motor cycles, for other means of transport, and so on. The result has been a stupendous increase during the last few years in the number of vehicles on the road, despite the fact that such vehicles are strictly limited for use in this country in order that more may be exported to dollar areas. If this were not so, there would be an even greater increase, and thus greater congestion on the roads.

That position is the result of the prosperity we have created, and also of the purchasing power we have created which has enabled an infinitely larger number of people to own and run motor vehicles. They buy them notwithstanding petrol rationing and notwithstanding the fact that the mileage is limited. Of course, if there were no controls, there would be more vehicles on the road, because there are a great number of people who still want them, and, indeed, need them. In these circumstances, I personally deplore the fact that the hon. Members opposite who moved and seconded this Motion so ably, and, if I may say so, so pleasantly, did not take the opportunity of familiarising themselves with the details of this basic programme which is revolutionising the petrol distribution of the country. The basic ration is, of course, greatly increased over that for last year.

I wish to mention one other factor before I sit down. If certain hon. Members opposite had been present in 1948, they would have heard a Debate of very great interest because we had, unfortunately, to abolish the basic ration altogether at one time. The Vick Committee was set up and it made a recommendation, which I think was first suggested to this House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), that red petrol should be used for commercial vehicles. We had a Debate on that, and I have referred to the speeches made from the benches opposite. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said that this was another red herring drawn across the trail of rationing. We know that the red herring is a very philoprogenitive fish, but this one was a singularly productive one, because it enabled us to restore the basic ration.

This plan resulted in a much greater saving than even the Minister had forecast. We were told, again I think by the same right hon. Gentleman, that this was the first step towards a police State. That was the sort of criticism we received when we tried to take measures to secure savings in petrol. I know that nobody likes rationing, and that everyone wants an abundance of petrol. But we cannot afford to buy petrol at the expense of food purchases, and we are not going to do it. That is the main point. The use of petrol is constantly expanding, and everyone hopes that, as the years go on, that expansion will progressively continue. In the meantime, I have moved the Amendment standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends, and I submit it with confidence to the House.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)

I beg to second the Amendment so brilliantly moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale).

Lest it be thought that I am rather prejudiced in my view because I am referring to the contribution made from this side of the House, may I say at once how much I appreciated the charming way in which the proposer and seconder of the Motion itself expressed themselves this morning in relation to this subject. But, even so, in the friendliest spirit, I must proceed from there to say that assertion, however pleasantly it may be put, is no substitute for argument. Nor can it be said, if an assertion is made, that those who make it have fulfilled their responsibility, and that the burden resting upon them is discharged merely by their asking the Minister certain questions.

I would draw the attention of the House most respectfully to the form in which the Motion is expressed. We are told That this House deplores the continued failure of His Majesty's Government. in relation to certain things. We are not asked to say that this House inquires into something which may or may not have been done. Those who are putting forward the Motion are asserting that there has been a failure on the part of the Government. The onus of proof is upon those who assert it. If they say there has been a failure then they must show, first, that there are supplies available in large quantities. They must not merely ask the Minister about this; they must show that such supplies are available in large quantities since they are asserting that they are adequate for certain purposes.

Presumably because they could not make up their minds as to whether they would ask a question, make an assertion or present arguments, they find themselves in the difficulty of not knowing quite whether they should make a direct assault upon the Government and claim that rationing should be abolished altogether in respect of all types of petrol or whether they should merely say, "Look here, our ideas of rationing are much better than the ideas on the Government side. If you would only leave it to us, then, instead of these forms being signed in triplicate, they would be signed in duplicate and that would save a considerable amount."

That sort of statement has been made this morning to discredit the rationing system. This is not necessarily related to petrol at all. This is an argument which could be directed against any system of rationing of any commodity, unless one had a system that no one could complain about at all. If one has a system of rationing then, quite obviously, the sort of difficulty referred to this morning is bound to arise here and there.

We deplore rationing for that and many other reasons. We utterly detest rationing. We accept the necessity for rationing, because we approach this and so many other subjects from a standpoint rather different from that of hon. Members opposite. In this Motion they approach the matter from a purely personal standpoint and not from the national standpoint. Suppose we were to say, "Let us make a list of all the legitimate claims, not the wild claims, not the claims we could not possibly consider on either side of the House, but the genuine overdue claims on this and other subjects." We would be able to say in respect of all items in that list that the claimant was entitled to receive consideration and satisfaction of his claim on the basis of social justice and his economic needs. If we did that in respect of every claim that we or hon. Members opposite could bring forward, with no regard for timing and with no regard for the national economy at all, we would smash the national economy.

In other words, when we are pressing particular claims, when we look at a particular section of the community, we must consider the claims of those people and groups in relation to the whole economy. I beg hon. Members opposite to adopt that point of view. If they do that, they cannot approach the subject we are discussing this morning without recognising that certain things have to be done on a national scale. That being so, they should have included it in their Motion. They should not have put forward their Motion in a form—and I say this in the friendliest way to its sponsors—that is more in accordance with the attitude of a petulant child than the attitude of a Member of this House in relation to a national problem.

I am not denying the fact that difficulties arise in one's constituency in a matter of this kind, as the seconder of the Motion stated. Of course we get complaints, but I heartily support the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, that these complaints have considerably diminished as time has passed. Such as remain are themselves perhaps the best indication of support of this Government in regard to the rationing schemes. I do not say that we get complaining letters which start with the words, "We heartily support the Government's rationing scheme and commend the Government for what they have done." But we do get that type of letter from somebody who has a perfectly legitimate claim, as he thinks, and has had that claim turned down under the rationing system by the officers concerned.

I do not know what the experience of other hon. Members has been, but mine certainly has been that when the subject matter of the claim has been considered and presented to the officials concerned, the representations have been dealt with very carefully and with the utmost courtesy. Indeed, I am delighted to be able to say, on behalf of my constituents, that many deserving cases have been helped by having increased allowances accorded to them.

It is only possible to make those increased allowances in the present situation if there is a system of rationing. If there had not been a system of rationing at all then, quite obviously, it would mean there would have been unlimited claims on the part of pleasure motorists. Let us approach this point again from the national standpoint and bear in mind the difficulties we have in relation to the need to close the dollar gap. I beg hon. Members opposite to ask themselves if there are no claims which should have priority over those of the private motorist. I have been a private motorist for the greater part of the last 20 years. Certainly, it would have been very enjoyable indeed to have had as much petrol as I wanted for pleasure purposes. It would be a grand thing, and there are pressing personal reasons why it would be a grand thing in my own case. No doubt there are other hon. Members who could put up an equally strong claim for themselves.

However, I would much prefer to do without petrol so that other things could be brought into this country. If, with the greatly increased number of cars, lorries, and buses which are on the road today, we abolished rationing there would be a very serious strain indeed upon our national economy. We heartily support the attitude of the Government in this matter. We feel they have done a first-class job of work. We feel that they really wish to increase supplies of petrol. We believe that that is proved, not on the basis of some question or other addressed to the Minister, but on the basis of the increased allowances which he can show.

Apart from the question of the individual supplies of petrol, I would put a further point in connection with the capital investment programme, which has resulted in obvious improvements on the grand scale as far as our oil refineries are concerned. I was brought up in a part of the country where, just across the bay, one could see the oil refineries at Llandarcy. If any hon. Member ever becomes depressed as a result of any speeches made by Opposition Members as to what the Government are doing, then I suggest that he takes a journey down to Llandarcy, and he will see, in the terrific activity and tremendous expansion there, one of the results of the policy and progress of the Government.

In those circumstances, since we can show beyond all question that there have been substantial increases in available supplies of petrol, since we can show that under the rationing scheme those supplies are directed to the most deserving cases, and since we can show, also, a great expansion in refinery production, I ask the House to say that if there is one part of the Government's activities for which the Government are entitled to have the highest commendation, it is this.

12.32 p.m.

Mr. Vosper (Runcorn)

I take it that hon. Members opposite who have spoken on the Amendment to this Motion feel, as I do, that it is both inadequate and innocuous, because they have referred to it hardly at all. It is platitudinous, and it contains no indication that hon. Members opposite want to get rid of petrol rationing as a system. Whenever petrol has been mentioned in this House I have always felt that hon. Members opposite think that it is part of Tory policy to provide more petrol for private motorists in the hope that they will give us their votes. That shows a very poor appreciation of the facts. How many people who support the party opposite would barter their votes for more petrol?

Of course, we want the private motorist to be helped, and I hope that is the wish of all hon. Members. Surely the money which the Chancellor allows us to spend on pleasure should be spent, as far as possible, according to our own personal tastes. If a man wishes to spend more money on petrol than he does on tobacco we should encourage that point of view. I feel that sometimes the party opposite would rather organise our pleasure for us, and I earnestly hope that they will not follow the lead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that respect.

I do not intervene in this Debate on behalf of the private motorist. It is more important to consider petrol rationing from the point of view of our present economic position. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) said that he had looked at "The Right Road for Britain" and that he could see no reference there to this subject. Surely he will know by now that hon. Members on this side of the House want to see Government expenditure reduced. That is quite clear in "The Right Road for Britain." A reduction in the administration of petrol rationing will contribute in no small measure to the accomplishment of a reduction in Government expenditure. I believe that the present rationing system is inequitable, wasteful and is a restraint on trade.

Before I deal with that, which is my main point, I should like to consider the reasons for the retention of the rationing system at the present time. I do not think that anybody in this House believes that today there is a shortage of oil or petrol supplies, although I believe there are many people in the country who are not aware that there is no such shortage. One reason which has been put forward for retaining petrol rationing is the dollar scarcity. I do not want to be held responsible for suggesting that we should exchange petrol for food, but let us consider to what extent we should be involved in further dollar expenditure if we abolished petrol rationing. We know that Service petrol and commercial petrol are distributed according to need, so that I do not believe there would be any increased consumption in those directions.

As the Mover of the Motion said, it is among the smaller proportion of motorists, the private and supplementary allowance motorists, that there is a demand for an increase at the moment. If we increase the petrol used by these people to the pre-war consumption we shall need another 600,000 tons. I see no evidence that there is an unlimited demand in the year 1950 which will increase our petrol consumption vastly in excess of the pre-war level. I do not know of any motorists, whether business or pleasure motorists, who have such spare purchasing power as to be able to spend a vastly increased amount of money on their motoring compared with pre-war.

We have been given the figure of 600,000 tons as the amount which we shall probably use if we abolish the system in the immediate future. According to speeches made on a previous occasion, I calculate that if the petrol comes entirely from dollar sources it will involve the expenditure of the equivalent of £6 million. If we get it from sterling sources the figure will be half or a third of that amount. I hope that in this Debate we shall be given figures in support of the argument that we cannot get more sterling oil instead of dollar oil.

I now return to the subject of the administration of petrol rationing. That is the subject which concerns us most of all. I believe that there is another reason other than the possible dollar shortage which leads hon. Members oppo- site to oppose the abolition of petrol rationing. First, I believe that in the Ministry of Fuel and Power there is a resistance to de-rationing. When one considers that 20 per cent. of the Ministry staff are employed in the administration of petrol rationing, it is surely obvious that there is a certain amount of opinion in favour of continuing the system. Who likes breaking up his small empire? Is it not the case that in a Service unit no commanding officer wants to whittle down his command if he can make out a case for its retention? It may be easier to build up a rationing system than to break it down.

There is another argument, and it has not been mentioned today, although it is very evident. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) said that the party opposite considered that retention of petrol rationing is an extension of the policy of fair shares. In other words, unless we can all have cars no one is to have as much petrol as he would wish. I remember the question of diesel oil being raised on an earlier occasion. We were told that diesel oil could not be de-rationed because it would not be fair to the petrol users. But is the rationing of petrol a case of fair shares? I submit that it results in unfair shares. Whereas with food and basic necessities each consumer is, roughly, in similar circumstances, no two consumers of petrol can be considered alike. That applies even in the case of the basic ration, for the performance of a car must be different, if only slightly different. In the case of a new car the supplementary petrol ration is issued on the basis of the maker's idea of performance, but how many new cars live up to that performance today?

When we consider the whole question of the supplementary petrol ration, I submit that the system is most inequitable. That is no reflection, as, indeed, was suggested by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, on the regional petroleum officers. I am sure my hon. Friends will agree with me when I say that we have had extreme co-operation and sympathy in all dealings with petroleum officers, but they are being asked to carry out an impossible task. May I give some examples to illustrate that point? I understand that in the case of supplementary allowances the regional petroleum officers are required to fix a ceiling for each type and make of car. Whatever the urgency, whatever the proof of need may be, there is a maximum above which they cannot go.

Surely that must operate most unfairly, particularly for those people who have dual occupations—for instance, the man who is a business representative and, at the same time, a county councillor. There is a ceiling fixed to his allowance on the same assessment as Income Tax is assessed for man and wife—to cover both occupations; so that if he takes his duties as a councillor seriously he will have less petrol with which to carry on his business. That is not a case of fair shares.

Second, I should like to refer, once again, to commercial travellers. This subject has been raised very many times in the House, but I feel it epitomises the policy very clearly. Hon. Members opposite must realise that because, on 12th December last, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister for Economic Affairs, replying to a Question on this subject, said: It really is quite impossible to administer petrol rationing on the basis of every case being treated on its merits without any rules whatever."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 2342.] It is impossible to administer this system rationally or fairly. I believe that must sum up the whole of the Government's policy in this respect. It is impossible to administer rationing of either red or white petrol fairly and the policy cannot, therefore, be called one of fair shares in this respect, either.

Petrol rationing is wasteful because it involves us in a large waste of money. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, queried the figures which have been given. He said that petrol ration was costing us less than £1 million per annum and was employing fewer than 2,000 people. I would refer him to the figures quoted by the Minister on 8th May. The Minister said that in his own Ministry 1,862 people were employed by his Department in petrol rationing and that there were a further 4,800 in the Ministry of Transport, which makes a total in excess of the 2,000 mentioned by the hon. Member. The right hon. Gentleman said that £785,000 was being spent in salaries, £200,000 in accommodation and £62,000 in Northern Ireland, which makes a figure in excess of £1 million. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, accused us of not looking back at the previous Debates and at the facts. I suggest that he himself is guilty in this respect.

The expenditure does not stop in Government Departments. It carries on in the Post Office, whose duties are increased by having to handle petrol rationing. In addition, there are the two million people who submit claims and their advisers. This is all taking time which could be employed in more productive efforts, and it does not include, for instance, the time of hon. Members who have to take up these claims. I submit that the waste of effort involved in the administration of petrol rationing amounts to a figure nearer £2 million a year than £1 million.

Third, I would deal with the question of the restraint of trade. Obviously, an unproductive expenditure of £2 million is in itself a restraint of trade because it is a burden on the backs of the workers, but over and above that, every case in which petrol for business purposes is restricted, every case in which petrol is refused and in which the alternative is rail transport taking two or three times as long, tends towards a restraint of trade—and all for a matter of a small increase in the dollar expenditure on oil.

I do not suggest that we should spend an unlimited amount of dollars on derationed petrol, but I ask that the Minister, in his reply, should give us more precise figures of the increase in dollar expenditure which will be necessary if we are to de-ration petrol altogether. I believe that only de-rationing will reduce this waste of expenditure. Further concessions may be helpful to the private motorist, but they will do little to relieve this overall burden on our economy. If the Minister can assure us that a very large increase in dollar expenditure will be necessary, and can back that statement with more precise figures and facts than those he has used in the past, then I shall be satisfied that the burden must be borne a little longer. At the same time, I want to see far more evidence from the other side of the House that petrol rationing will be abolished at the earliest possible moment and will not remain a permanent institution in our economy.

12.47 p.m.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

I am grateful for having caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, because I want to speak as a Private Member speaking in Private Members' time and I want to make some protest at the manner in which, both last Friday and today, Private Members' time has been abused. There is Government time and there is Opposition time on Supply, and those are the times for debating party, partisan Motions in this House. If Private Members' time has any object, then that object is to enable back bench Members to put down Motions which cut across party divisions so that the general feelings of the back benchers on those sort of matters can be ascertained.

When we had Private Members' Bills during the last Session that was, indeed, the case. Bills were introduced from this side of the House, seconded from the opposite side of the House and opposed from this side of the House. I remember a Bill concerning blood sports—the sort of subject which would make an admirable Motion. It was proposed from this side of the House by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) and was seconded by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson). The rejection was moved by the present Minister of Food and was seconded by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas). That was the manner in which Private Members' time was used.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I should like to be clear on this. Is the hon. and learned Member making the suggestion that he would like to see a restriction imposed on the choice of the Private Member?

Mr. Paget

No; I am making no such suggestion. What I am saying is that Private Members who are conscious of being Private Members and not mere cogs in a party machine should use a discretion in their selection and should not use Private Members' time for mere party, partisan Motions. I remember when this Motion about Private Members' time was originally proposed on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. L. Hale) said that he hoped that only Members would put down their names to Motions who had some subject which they really felt urgently ought to be discussed by the House, and that suggestion was strongly supported by the noble Lord the Father of the House.

That is not what has happened. Every one puts his name down, and in fact it would be just as good if only two people put their names down, the Government Chief Whip and the Opposition Chief Whip, because what has happened is that it is a draw for a Tory Motion or a Labour Motion. It is in fact no longer Private Members' time but Government time or Opposition time, as it happens to come out of the hat. I hope therefore that we on the back benches will not allow our time to be taken away and treated in that manner in the future. It is up to us; do let us have Private Members' Motions and not merely discussion on hand-out Motions dealt with in a partisan spirit, as they have been lately.

In trying a little to take my own advice in this matter, in spite of the partisan manner in which both the Motion and the Amendment are expressed, I want to talk about this dispassionately and not from a party point of view. There are one or two points which I want to make. Firstly, I feel that a substantial point is made with regard to the question of rationing red petrol. I do not know that any Member here has ever had a complaint from any constituent that he has not been able to get the red petrol he requires. I take it from that that this red petrol is not really rationed, but is in fact available as required for commercial purposes.

I should be interested to hear from the Minister what is the reason for continuing to ration it; but when one has said that—I am sorry that the mover of the Motion is not in his place—I deplore the sort of gibe which got cheers from Members opposite about the Road Haulage Executive—"Did they get the petrol they wanted?" May I say this: some of the productive power of this nation is in private hands and some of it is in public hands, but whether it be in private hands or public hands, it is an asset of the nation and something which all people ought to wish well because it belongs to the nation.

I do not say that this party has not been to blame in this matter. It has in the past. There has been this partisan attitude between private and public enterprise; but with responsibility, the responsibility that comes from power, this party has realised the need for prosperous private enterprise and the need for all the encouragement that one can give to that prosperous private enterprise. I hope that the other side, when power comes to them, as it may in the comparatively near future, will learn responsibility from that power, too. When they have to administer this nation's concerns, let us hope for England's sake that they put their heart and soul into making them a success, and do not let them make that task difficult for themselves by continual gibes at everything and every doing of a public concern merely because it is the whole nation's concern.

Hon. Gentlemen have been getting into a rather unhappy position. It is the sort of position in which the Foxite opposition found themselves in in the 18th century, when the Pitt Tories believed that power should be the King's and the Whig Opposition believed that power should be subtracted from the King in order that it might be competed for by individuals. The result of that was that the Foxites found themselves in the position that they were opposed to the King's power because they were jealous of it; they applauded the success of England's enemies and lamented the success of their own nation.

To some degree that has been happening on the benches opposite. Good news for England has been received, as it was by the Foxites in the 18th century, with depression; bad news for England with elation. Indeed, one saw that to some extent even today when hon. Members asked, Why is this country worse off than Iceland and Belgium and all the other countries? There was joy and pleasure on the faces of Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, they looked that way. I really am not trying to be unpleasant about this. I think that is a thing one drifts into. There were many patriots among the Foxites in the 18th century but they drifted into the unhappy position of wishing well to everyone except their own country because they disliked the attitude of their own Government. That is a position we must not get into here. I am not trying to be offensive, but I do make that point.

The other point I want to touch on is the question of dollar oil and the balance of payments problem which has been raised here, and which seems to be an important one. Firstly, of course, the figure of 600,000 tons as being all that is necessary is clearly bogus. That is a comparison between what is in fact being used now by private motorists and what was used before the war.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

I think what was said was on the basis of what each car used before the war. Taking the number of cars we know to be registered today, the 2,400,000 mark would be required if pre-war consumption—and that was free consumption—were allowed to the private motorist.

Mr. Paget

I am extremely grateful for that correction, but I very much doubt the mathematics of it. I have heard the figure quoted. No account is taken of the increase of private cars.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Yes, it is.

Mr. Paget

I accept that fact from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. One has to realise—and I hope that this is a fact which is as welcome on the other side of the House as it is on this—that people in this country generally have a great deal more money to spend, and that far more people have strayed into the class of petrol users than ever there were before the war. The higher grade of manual worker is now in that class, in the same way as in America, and if we freed petrol the requirements for petrol would leap out of all proportion to what they were before the war. I feel that on any view, that petrol has to be limited.

I am not satisfied that rationing is the right way to limit the use of petrol. I am not at all certain that this is not a commodity which is in the semi-luxury class—I am talking about certain basic petrol—and is not better rationed by the purse. I am not at all certain that the price cannot be put up to the point where demand is limited to the supply for which we can afford dollars. I believe we could stabilise the amount of basic petrol used if the price were put up to about 5s. a gallon, which is what I believe people would pay for it. I am inclined to think this is what we ought to do, and that we should use the additional revenue to help the people who are hardest hit by the rising cost of living.

I should like to see the additional revenue used for a domestic coal subsidy. People use coal domestically almost in an inverse proportion to their income. I mean by that that the richer the people the more electricity and gas they use for heating purposes and the less coal. Old age pensioners and those living by themselves are the hardest hit by the rising prices, and they are the people whose expenditure on coal represents the highest proportion of their income. If we really want to help people who are injured by the increasing cost of living, the best way we can do it is by putting a subsidy on the domestic coal ration.

It is perfectly true that domestic coal is made available to our people at half world prices. The coal we can sell for export realises twice the price we charge for coal to our domestic consumers, and in that sense it is being made available at far below its economic price, but still I believe that by selling basic petrol at a price people can afford and by devoting the extra revenue to coal subsidies, we should be helping the people hardest hit by the rising prices. That is the sort of matter which should be considered by the Government.

I think that the question of sterling petrol is a bogus argument to introduce, and for this simple reason. We get some petrol from dollar sources and we buy some non-dollar petrol. We presumably buy that petrol for dollars because, in the general exchange system of the world, it is desirable to have some dollar petrol in this country, but when we are considering an increase or a decrease we are dealing with a margin. Any extra petrol we bring into the country comes naturally from less advantageous sources, because we have already, presumably, used the most advantageous sources in the first place. It follows, therefore, that to increase our supplies of petrol we must obtain petrol from less advantageous sources. Therefore, we are not dealing with a general average but with a margin, and any increase has to be bought with dollar resources.

Mr. Carson (Isle of Thanet)

Would not the best thing be to try to increase the supply from advantageous sources?

Mr. Paget

If the hon. Member had listened to the speech of my hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale), he would have realised the enormous steps that are being taken in that direction. It may be that when these refineries begin to pour out the petrol, we shall have more petrol in the exchange picture from advantageous sources and can then increase the ration. I am prepared to leave that to the Government.

My inclination is to think that we are getting too much petrol. I want to see more timber for houses and more food supplies, and it seems to me that in the order of priorities, petrol should have less priority. We must appreciate that this is a question of dollar priorities, and that we can have more petrol or more houses, but not both. I conclude by saying that I hope this matter will not be taken to a Division, because I think Divisions are a wrong use of Private Members' time. I hope that in future we can deal with questions which interest back benchers in a non-partisan way.

1.8 p.m.

Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)

I come from Cornwall, and I wish to stress the position of those who live in the rural areas, which has been touched on only lightly in this Debate. I wish to refer to areas like Cornwall and the remoter parts of the country where the question of holiday traffic is of the greatest importance. Reference has been made to pleasure motoring and private motoring, but let there be no confusion between the two. Private motoring is very different in the rural areas from pleasure motoring.

Members who come from rural constituencies will be fully aware of the handicaps under which those in the rural areas live compared with the town dwellers. They will be fully aware of the value to them of an extra supply of petrol to improve their lot. Then there is the position of the holiday trade. In these days, with rail fares at their present high level, people can barely afford to take a holiday in the remote parts of the country. They also cannot afford the petrol, and, in consequence, they go in their thousands to the Continent.

It is not only a question of excessive rail fares for those who wish to take a holiday in Cornwall. Local transport facilities are extremely scanty for people to enjoy a holiday unless they have a car and the petrol to go with it. I would mention also the effect of an adequate supply of petrol upon the staggering of holidays. July and August will always be the most popular months by the seaside because people can sit in the sun and bathe in the sea, but they are not the only suitable months. May and June also are good holiday months. That is the time when "the year's at the spring." To enjoy holidays in May and June, however, one must have petrol. I would ask the Government to bear these points in mind.

I come to the question of dollar expenditure. I do not propose to go into detail upon the matter. One hon. Member has stated that it suited our economy at times to import petrol direct from America. I agree with that part of his speech. It might suit our general economy to do so, while elsewhere we might sell an equivalent amount of our own non-dollar petrol to dollar countries. My understanding of the general position is that in the past, a large proportion of our petrol consumption has been dollar petrol, but that proportion is decreasing. There used to be little petrol produced in our Empire, but today petrol production from Empire and non-dollar countries has increased. Then, for some years after the war, the consumption of petrol in this country involved the use of dollar tanker tonnage, but I believe that that item of dollar expenditure has virtually disappeared. We have our own tankers. Today, we are left mainly, if not only, with the dollar content in the use of dollar refineries, and we hope that that item will disappear when our own new refinery capacity comes into operation.

I hope that the Minister, in replying to the Debate, will bring out the point that the dollar content is decreasing and will give us figures to show the extent and the rate of that decrease. I trust that in his general attitude to the question of petrol rationing he will give due attention to the need in the rural areas and the need of those who cater for the holiday trade, many of whom are in danger of being put out of business because the private motorist cannot afford to take his holidays by road in this country.

1.14 p.m.

Mr. Hamilton (Fife, West)

I was interested in the assertion of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), who seconded the Motion, that he was speaking for the common man. I represent a division where I think the people do not very much care whether petrol rationing is abolished or not, because they have no cars. They have no use for petrol, anyhow. Since I came to this House I have had only one complaint of petrol shortage and that complainant received an increase of 25 per cent. in his ration.

The mover of the Motion, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot), commented upon a statement made by a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power to the effect that petrol de-rationing would result in considerable unemployment. He seemed to think that that meant the unemployment of the 2,000-odd civil servants who are now administering this scheme. I am sure that what my hon. Friend meant was that de-rationing of petrol would inevitably mean that the resulting increased consumption would lead to increased dollar expenditure in that direction and its curtailment on either food or raw materials, with consequent unemployment in the industries depending upon those dollar materials. The hon. Member for Dover also quoted from a letter. We have had experience of quoting letters in this Parliament. It is an extremely dangerous precedent. We could produce and quote letters about the Opposition which would not be in very polite language.

We all desire to end rationing, but we want to be quite sure that rationing by coupon is not replaced by rationing through cash. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) suggested a dual-price system whereby the price to the private user could be increased. I think he mentioned 5s. a gallon. That policy would be deplored by most hon. Members on this side as contrary to all our Socialist principles. I am certain it would never be adopted by a Labour Government.

What are the possible reasons for the continuation of rationing? There are four questions involved. The first is: Is there a world shortage? I do not think there is. From my reading we can assume that there is an adequate supply. The second question is: What is the refining capacity? Is there a shortage of it? Again, I do not think so. I think the position is being remedied more and more by the policy of the Government, which was referred to by the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment. Our post-war refining policy is such that by 1952 we shall be refining, within our own shores, more petrol than any other country in Western Europe. The final result of that policy will be that we shall be entirely self-supporting from our oil processing capacity.

The third possible reason for the continuation of rationing is the lack of distributive facilities. I should like to know Whether there is any shortage of tankers or other facilities. I confess that at present I do not know. A fourth consideration, which, so far, has not been mentioned, is the question of the building up of stocks in view of the international situation. To what extent does this factor determine whether we are to continue rationing? Is it because of the international tension and the consequent building up of adequate supplies that we have to ensure the strictest economy in the use of petrol for commercial and private purposes?

Basically, I think that the rationing policy is due to the reason to which everyone who has spoken has referred—the need to conserve dollars. Oil remains the largest single commodity, both in volume and in value, in international trade. It is also the largest single item in the dollar payments of the sterling area, involving a net annual expenditure of over 550 million dollars. It is for that reason that any responsible United Kingdom Government, of whatever political colour, must take every practicable step to reduce dollar expenditure on oil. This course is imperative, not only here, but in nearly every European country. Since the middle of 1949, for instance, the northern European countries—Sweden, Norway and Denmark—have been making great efforts to curtail their dollar expenditure on oil.

Perhaps I may give one or two figures of which the hon. Member for Somerset, North did not seem to be aware, even though he was seconding a Motion which had as its object the de-rationing of petrol. He was not aware of the increase in the number of motor vehicles nor in the mechanisation of industry which has taken place in the last few years. In September, 1938, there were 2,584,000 motor vehicles in Great Britain, the total annual needs of which were met by about 10 million tons of oil. In November, 1949, the number of vehicles had risen to 3,143,000 and the total oil requirement to over 13 million tons; that is, an increase of 20 per cent. in vehicles and of over 30 per cent. in petrol consumption. By 1952 the annual consumption is expected to be at the rate of over 18 million tons. We all know, of course—we on this side are proud of the fact, whereas hon. Members opposite try to play down the achievement—that these increased figures are due to a high level of industrial productivity and to the increased mechanisation of our industry.

Let it not be forgotten that by 1952 when the number of vehicles and their corresponding petrol consumption will be even greater than at present, Marshall Aid comes to an end. The question which we have to face is whether the European countries—not only our own, but all in Western Europe—which are participating in Marshall Aid will be able to afford, from the dollars which they earn, the importation of some 19 million tons of oil each year from United States companies, at a cost of about 400 million dollars, in addition to paying for their many other needs from dollar sources.

That is a question which we must face, but not in isolation; it must be considered not as a purely British problem, but as a Western European problem. All of us here are concerned about the integration of Western European economy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who seconded the Amendment, spoke of considering national needs rather than individual needs. The same thing applies, but in a broader sense, in that we should consider the needs of Western Europe rather than merely our own national need.

Look at the concession which was made in the recent Budget. In a complete year the satisfaction of the standard ration will need 720,000 tons of petrol, instead of last year's figure of 450,000 tons; that, of course, included the Summer bonus, which is now included in the ration. These figures justify the conclusion which is reached in the "Petroleum Press Service Journal" that the rationing system has little or no restrictive effect upon consumption in the essential sphere; and that is a vital principle as far as the party on this side of the House are concerned. We must ensure that petrol is unrestricted in the essential sphere, but that it is very seriously restricted in the inessential sphere. That is where we clash with the party opposite.

Reference may be made to the abolition of petrol rationing in Australia; it certainly was referred to during the General Election. That de-rationing took place on 8th February, when it was immediately asserted that a Conservative Government in Australia had removed there, some of the control which in this country was frustrating and shackling the people because we had a Labour Government, In truth, however, no fair comparison is possible between Britain and Australia, because the increase in dollar expenditure in Australia as a result of de-rationing amounts in a full year to no more than 6 million dollars, or perhaps less. In the United Kingdom, however, the ending of rationing would mean an increase in dollar expenditure of six times that amount, or in the region of 30 million dollars. The Australian problem is also different in that the Australians are enjoying a boom in dollar exports which we certainly are not enjoying. They are exporting, for instance, a tremendous amount of wool.

We have no such commodity which is in equally great demand in the dollar markets. Australia, in fact, has achieved a slightly favourable balance of trade with the United States. Even despite that, however, the Australian Government, after having de-rationed petrol, are now trying to induce United States oil companies to establish refineries in Australia to save dollars; and they are hoping also to import sterling petrol from Japan in return for increased sales of wool. Furthermore, they are looking for ways and means of pruning their other items of dollar expenditure, which is precisely what we should do.

Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

On a point of Order. I am not trying to embarrass my hon. Friend, but is it in Order, Sir, for him to query the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth Government?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it is in Order to refer to it.

Mr. Hamilton

I am not at all quarrelling with the fiscal policy of Australia. I am trying to make a comparison between the policy of Australia and the policy of this country, and trying to prove that they are in no way the same. I do not at all question the wisdom of the Australian Government.

The whole question of petrol rationing, it seems to me, can be put in a nutshell. I refer again to this non-party, non-political organisation, the "Petroleum Press Service Journal," which, in its last month's publication, had this to say: The meticulous system of rationing introduced in the first year of the war has been retained, but its cramping effect upon consumption should not be exaggerated. It goes on to say: Moreover, thanks to the operation of the red petrol scheme it has been possible to ensure adequate supplies for commercial and agricultural users and, at the same time, to make it very difficult for priority gasolene to reach pleasure motorists through the black market. This has meant that ample quantities have been available for essential users, with only about a tenth of the present gasolene demand being subject to the strict discipline of the standard ration. That is very different from the sentiment expressed as long ago as 11th July, 1946, by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), who was then the Member for Bucklow and who in an Adjournment Debate on petrol rationing, said this: I feel that there is nothing whatsoever which prevents the right hon. Gentleman from making a generous gesture towards those people who have to go on holidays … Who have to go on holidays! … I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman could do something for that class of the community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1946; Vol. 425, c. 733.] I am equally certain that hon. Members opposite want the abolition of petrol rationing, not for the sake of individual constituents, but for the welfare of the section of the community—the small section of the community—for which their party speaks. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I believe that that kind of indiscreet statement which is dropped from time to time by hon. Members opposite makes ordinary people realise the great danger to which the country would be subject if the party opposite ever should get power again.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)

I should like to support the Motion. First, may I refer for a few moments, to the opening remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)? He criticised the use that is being made of these Private Members' Motions and of Private Members' time. While I admit that I am a newcomer to this House, I have heard it said on several occasions that Governments of the day have welcomed the opportunities to test the feeling of the House—opportunities which are provided through Private Members' Motions—on matters about which they themselves may have felt a little timid, and about which they wanted to know the view of the House before they themselves took any steps in those matters. That being so, I hope that the House will continue to let Private Members bring forward, by these Motions, any subjects for Debate which they feel are of particular importance at any time.

In this Debate a great deal has been said about petrol for pleasure, and I noticed that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who seconded the Amendment, made a great deal of play with the "pleasure motor spirit." I propose to touch on something which, up to the present, has been overlooked in this Debate, and that is the use of red petrol in agriculture for food production. I have felt for a very considerable time that the rationing of red petrol used on the farms could be done away with.

In developing my argument as to why this could be done I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the average size of holdings in this country. Some 85 per cent. are under 150 acres, so the Minister would not be taking any great risk that some of this red petrol may be used for any other purpose than the production of food. Furthermore, what is the average income of the farmers of this country? It is somewhere about £750 a year. With deductions for taxation, interest on capital, managerial remuneration, and so forth, that income does not allow a great deal of money to be spent on petrol to be used for pleasure purposes.

I think that it would have been better if certain hon. Members opposite made themselves acquainted with the true position of the agricultural industry before making the sort of speeches that have been made by them in the country and also in this House. I am referring particularly to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). His reference to "feather bedding" shows how he is out of touch with the modern farmer. He is completely unaware that the modern farmer, like the dweller in the city, prefers and uses a modern spring mattress because it is more hygienic than the old feather bed. I believe that if the hon. Gentleman continues to make speeches of that sort he will be running round the countryside looking for a feather bed to lay his tired body upon.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)

It is very interesting to hear about motorists and feather bedding, but I am anxious to get to the point about agriculture that the hon. Gentleman is making. Do I understand that he is advocating that we should de-ration red petrol in general, or for the farming community?

Mr. Crouch

I am talking about red petrol that is used in agriculture. I am coming to that. I was about to say, with regard to feather bedding, that the hon. Member for Wednesbury will be wanting to see the Minister of Health to get a permit for some cotton wool to apply to the bruises and abrasions that will no doubt be inflicted upon him by the Minister of Agriculture.

Now let me come to the petrol in which I am most interested, and that is the petrol that is used in our vehicles for the cultivation of the soil. I know that for some time now there has not been undue difficulty in obtaining coupons for red petrol, but it does take up a great deal of the time of the farming community, and it does create a great deal of unnecessary work in the regional petroleum offices.

Mr. Robens

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that to make application once every six months for the appropriate coupons—which he agrees are never refused and are in sufficient quantities to cover all the work of the farmer—is really a hardship?

Mr. Crouch

I did not say it was never refused. I could state several instances where this petrol has been refused. If the Parliamentary Secretary would get in touch with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, several telegrams could be found which were sent to him during the harvest before last about the inability to move machines through the lack of petrol.

In this country we have some 100,000 tractors of all types which run entirely on petrol. In addition, there are about a quarter of a million which use petrol for starting; and we have about 100,000 stationary engines which are used for various types of work on the farm such as operating milking machines, pumping, generating electricity, and so forth. The Parliamentary Secretary suggested, a moment ago, that this did not cause much work. I would suggest that filling up a large number of forms to obtain the coupons necessary for that work does take up some of the time of the agriculturist.

Mr. Robens

Filling up an application form, which is a mere repetition of the previous completion of forms, cannot really be regarded as a laborious work and it cannot be said that it takes up more time.

Mr. Crouch

Then why do it? On the basis of these machines I have mentioned it is estimated that we use about 48 million gallons of petrol for tractors, and about 10 million gallons a year for stationary engines. As a practical farmer I know that the agricultural community do not use any more petrol for the job than is necessary, but they must have sufficient petrol to carry out a particular operation. As a result of petrol rationing, which has been in existence for the last 10 years, the Minister has found the correct amount of fuel required for any particular operation. Take the case of a very popular tractor, the Fordson. It was ascertained that two gallons a week are required for starting purposes.

Whether it is rationed by coupons or not, farmers still need petrol. But on account of the price, as compared with the other forms of fuel, T.V.O., they never have wasted petrol. It can never be suggested that the agricultural community take their pleasure with the aid of an agricultural tractor. I cannot see that there would be any danger of this petrol being used for any other purpose, because, as a result of the steps which the Minister, quite rightly, found it necessary to take in the early days of red petrol rationing, people have been deterred from misusing red petrol granted to them.

I would re-emphasise what has been said by some of my hon. Friends. By the release of agricultural petrol from the rationing system we should be releasing manpower so urgently needed in the production of goods in this country and no risk would be taken so far as that red agricultural petrol is concerned by taking it off coupons.

1.45 p.m.

Miss Burton (Coventry, South)

I represent one of the greatest motoring cities in the country. I might perhaps be accused of bias if I said it was the greatest motoring city; but I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that it is one of the greatest in this country. It might therefore be assumed that I was taking my political life in my hands in coming here today to speak against the immediate abolition of petrol rationing. If Coventry were merely a great motoring city that would be true, but I believe that politically, it is one of the most adult cities in this country. Therefore, I have no hesitation in coming here today to speak against the Motion for the abolition of petrol rationing.

It is quite obvious to anybody with any intelligence at all, in this House or outside, that people would like more petrol. I remember that on Tuesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the fourth form standard of some of the arguments put forward by the Opposition in the Debate on the Finance Bill. In bringing forward this Motion today they have revealed that his fourth form standard was rather high. There is not the slightest doubt that any Government—I would even say a Government of the party opposite as well as a Government on this side of the House—would take petrol off the ration if they could. It would obviously have a pleasant effect on votes which are important, both to Governments and to politicians.

One of the greatest tributes I would pay to the Labour Government of the past six years is that they have had the courage to do unpopular things. I have not travelled a great deal, but I have been to America and Europe, and I would say without hesitation that the British people are politically the most mature in the world today. In the long run, they will think for themselves and not be deluded by party propaganda.

Both during and since the election the party opposite has had the idea, "Well, let us play at politics"—irrespective of the effect on the country's recovery at home, or the effect on news abroad. I remember in February, when all of us were engaged during very bad weather in fighting for what many people must think the peculiar privilege of coming here and sitting all hours, the Opposition suddenly launched forth, not a definite proposal, but rather a slight hint on which it would be difficult to take them up, that if a Conservative Government were returned, there would be a lot more petrol.

Air-Commodore Harvey


Miss Burton

It probably escaped the Opposition—and if it did not, it makes the position even worse so far as they are concerned—that at that moment in Washington we were engaged in very delicate negotiations concerning the number of dollars, we were spending on petrol and oil consumption. It was more than we could afford and we felt it had to be cut. Presumably hon. Members opposite do read the American Press. I do not see many American papers but I see some. Hon. Members opposite who read those papers will perhaps realise what a great contribution their red herring was in those negotiations. In other countries it is not always appreciated that a Tory red herring is merely a red herring with a lot of bluff and very little foundation. In that case it did a very great deal of harm.

I would accuse the Opposition of saying, "Well, anyway, let's have a go. Let's bribe the British electorate. Let us see if it will go down." If it was likely to go down anywhere, one would have thought that it would go down in a motoring city. I and my two hon. Friends who have the privilege of representing Coventry, wondered what would be the reactions of our constituents to that problem. I am pleased to say that, as hon. Members opposite know with regret, their reactions were the right ones. They wanted to know whether the petrol proposition was a Tory red herring or whether it had any foundation in fact.

Since then the Opposition in this House have had what they may think has been a grand game of playing with politics, but I am sure that it will react adversely upon them—whether they were weeping tears over housing, wages, profits, employment or health. The Opposition say, "Let us get it over to the country that we are concerned about these matters," in the hope that the people will forget what happened when their party was in power. In discussing petrol rationing, or anything else, the Opposition do not seem to explain to the country that if they want to spend more money on one article, they must get it from somewhere else first. That is elementary, but it is not a fact which is usually put forward by the Press which supports the Opposition.

When we get all these remarks about housing, it never occurs to the Opposition to ask first—and this is more important than money—where is the labour to come from, where are the materials and the money. I should have thought that it was obvious even to the third form, never mind the fourth, that we cannot spend money on something unless we take it from somewhere else. We could have more petrol today. Everybody knows that. We could have more petrol if we were prepared to have less of other things.

I would think a great deal more of the Opposition—and I suggest very humbly as a back bencher that they would get a lot more votes also—if they went to the country and said, "You can have more petrol on condition that you do without something else." We have had to point out these facts when the Opposition did not. We could have less food and less tobacco—the House probably knows that I should not mind, but I dare say that the smokers would—fewer films, less cotton or less machinery. This is a free country and everybody has the right to make a choice.

I am sure that the Opposition will not follow my advice, and I am glad that they will not, but I think that they would do a lot better if they were to face the facts. Last year this country spent 53 million dollars in direct payments to American oil companies for petrol used here. That figure can be compared with 52 million dollars spent on tobacco. It is a moot point whether we would rather have the tobacco or the dollars; but we cannot have both. Last year we spent 24 million dollars on films.

There is a paper which supports the party opposite—"The Daily Telegraph." I as a back bencher am always rather chary of quoting a right hon. Gentleman from the Front Bench opposite; but one has to make a start, so I will make mine now. I do not know whether I am sorry or glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has just returned to the Chamber. On 11th February of this year the "Daily Telegraph" quoted the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd), who, I am aware, knows a considerable amount about petrol and oil. They said that he declared, in London, that delay in abolishing petrol rationing was due to Whitehall slowness in sanctioning refinery extensions in this country.

Mr. G. Lloyd

Hear, hear.

Miss Burton

With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to say that, at the time, it seemed to me utter and complete nonsense, but I did not know that I should have the chance of saying so in this House.

Mr. Lloyd

I hope that I shall have the chance later, of replying to the hon. Member.

Miss Burton

I thought I should not get away with that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Before the war Conservative Governments did nothing at all to encourage the refining of oil in Britain. They left the refineries to be built in foreign territories. That is not party propaganda. That is an honest-to-goodness fact. It is the Labour Government who have encouraged the home refinery programme and given it high priority. They have given it the highest possible priority, bearing in mind that they had to balance the programme with the building of houses, factories, schools and everything else.

One brief economic fact is that the output from the oil refineries in the United Kingdom has gone up substantially. In 1946 it was 2,200,000 tons, and in 1949 it was 5,600,000 tons. I know the party opposite, even supposing that they had put these refineries up, would say that that production would have been good enough; but it is not enough for us. We have also brought full employment which has more than absorbed the extra production.

The consumption of petrol and oil in Britain and the sterling area is increasing all the time. I think that fact is known by all of us. In Britain in 1949 we consumed 400,000 tons more petrol than in 1948. If we take petrol and oil together, the increase was 1,270,000 tons. There are today on the roads of Britain more cars and more motor cycles than ever there were before the war. I understand that the additional cost of de-rationing petrol would have been about 50 million dollars. That figure applied about a month ago.

If we wanted to earn those extra 50 million dollars, we could do it in various ways. As I sit for the City of Coventry, I should like to say we could export about 50,000 more motor cars to the dollar countries. I do not know how we could do it, because we have not got the labour, but that would be one means of getting the money. Alternatively, we could export a few million more yards of cloth, or we could, if hon. Members opposite wish, do without 50 million dollars' worth of goods. I suppose that we could do without tobacco almost entirely. We could have less food or cotton or machinery, or we could have a lot more unemployed.

Those are the three alternatives. We could either earn the money or go without other articles, or we could have more unemployed. I should be interested to know from the Front Bench opposite which of those three methods they would adopt. Nobody wants petrol rationing for its own sake. Even this Government do not want it for its own sake. It does not do anybody any good; and when it is possible to abolish it, we shall abolish it. I think that hon. Members opposite and their Press look at this matter from a most reactionary point of view. Everyone wishes to get rid of rationing in all its forms as soon as possible. If we wanted to abolish petrol rationing, we could put up the price to 6s. a gallon. That might be a fourth alternative. We on these benches do not approve of that.

If we cared to abolish petrol rationing today by spending more dollars and importing less machinery and material, what would be the position? I know that hon. Members opposite do their best at times, but a lot of us on this side of the House, without any claptrap or without introducing party politics, know unemployment at first hand. If we were to bring in less machinery and to cut production instead of increasing it, then we should put further away the day when all rationing can be abolished. It is only because of our planned economy that we shall eventually come to the day when no rationing will be necessary. All that will be due to the self-sacrifice of the people of this country and to the courage of the Government, which has had the guts, if that is a Parliamentary term, to do things that were unpopular. We believe that the people of this country will thank this Government, and I believe that if a sufficient number of us go about the country and give the facts, the people will thank us at the next General Election.

As I cannot help the motorists in my constituency by voting today—if we are going to vote—for the abolition of petrol rationing, I would like to pay tribute to them by saying that I believe that in Coventry we have the highest standard of courtesy among drivers of motor cars anywhere in this country. I challenge any city to come up to the level of Coventry in the courtesy which motorists show, and, when Coventrians come up to London, I am always in great fear that they will expect that same spirit of consideration and courtesy in this great city and wait for the traffic to pull up for them here as it does in their own city. Speaking for a city which is a great motoring city, and knowing full well that the votes which sent me here came in large proportion from people with motor cars, I say unhesitatingly that the maturity and political sense of that city and the country will support the Government in refusing to pander to political propaganda for the abolition of petrol rationing before it is advisable.

2.2 p.m.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

First of all, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) who moved this Motion, because he did so in an excellent manner, and the Motion was seconded in a similar way. I hope the motorists of Coventry will be able to draw some consolation from the remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for South Coventry (Miss Burton) about courtesy. All the courtesy in the world will not help them when they want to go out on a Sunday or to go away for a holiday in their motor cars.

I was surprised that the hon. Lady also spoke about herrings, because only this week, Scottish fishermen have been tipping them back into the sea because they could not be sold. If that is planning—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, private enterprise."] Not a bit; hon. Members opposite have got it quite wrong. I do not want to be taken away from my main theme in this Debate, but it is because there has been no "feather-bedding" in the fishing industry. There were maximum prices, but no minimum prices.

The hon. Lady went on to say that the Government had had the courage to do a lot of unpopular things. I would mention the fuel crisis of three years ago, on which the Government were warned six months before by hon. Members on this side of the House. I can well understand that hon. Members opposite are not enjoying this Debate. I would not, if I were sitting on the other side. I remember that three or four years ago the Lord President of the Council slated us on this side because we did not oppose sufficiently; now that the Opposition is stronger, hon. Members opposite cannot take it. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen choose to laugh, but it happens to be true. There is no question of "snap Divisions" in these Debates. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well when these things are coming off, and it is sheer humbug to pretend that it is otherwise.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) said that he did not receive any complaints. I am amazed, because I have a steady stream of them, as the Parliamentary Secretary well knows, and I might say, in passing, that he deals with them in a very careful and fair way. I noticed that I got far more satisfactory replies in the few weeks preceding the election—I do not know why—than at any other time.

Mr. Robens

I must rise to that bait and make it perfectly clear that there has been no change at all in the treatment of applications, either before the General Election or since.

Air-Commodore Harvey

I am not suggesting that there was any intention at all in these matters, because the hon. Member who brings forward the application receives as much credit for anything that is achieved as the Minister himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] It happens to be the fact, and if the hon. Gentleman would care to look through my correspondence file he can see it for himself.

The motorists represent all classes of the community, and I was surprised that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Hamilton) should say that there were no motorists or motor-cyclists in his division. There may not be such a high percentage as there is in other parts of the country, but it is not the rich people who form the bulk of the motorists in these days, but members of the working classes. [Laughter.] I wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite would take this matter seriously. In my own division, the working men in Macclesfield and Congleton, for their journeys to and from work, use an 8 h.p. car which is shared between three or four of them in order to save a long and tedious journey by railway, and, possibly, also to save time. Because they are in a position to do that, they put more into their work. The difficulties of the housing problem has meant that people have to go much further to their work, and also when they change their jobs, and it is much better for them if they can make use of motor vehicles.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that in his division, and particularly in Macclesfield, a large change of work is taking place?

Air-Commodore Harvey

I cannot say that a large change of work is going on there, but it is in many other parts of the country, and the Government have, in fact, asked for people who are prepared to take other jobs in other places and different conditions.

The Government are not very kind to motorists, and the right hon. Gentleman who was Secretary of State for Scotland until recently has said that motorists are the most selfish people in the community. I do not think that that is the right way to talk about any section of the people. We have had a good many excuses on this question of petrol. First of all, it was the Berlin air lift, which I do not think had any real effect on petrol rationing. I think that has been admitted by the Minister. Then, the hon. Member for Oldham, West, said that very little petrol was used by the Fighting Services. That is perfectly true, and I am very sorry that it is, because if we had more aeroplanes and vehicles in the Services it would indicate the increased strength of this country. But, when the hon. Member touches on that point, he should remember that the Royal Air Force today, including the whole of Fighter Command, are using jet aircraft, which consume paraffin. That must be helping the immediate situation as far as petrol is concerned.

The Minister of Fuel and Power, on 19th May last year, said: … we expect that this year the output of motor spirit by the sterling companies will be about half a million tons above what it was in 1948 …"—[Official Report, 19th May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 648.] Could we be told how much the output will be for the current year?

The motor car industry has made a great contribution to the export trade, although I remember that on a Friday in the early days of the last Parliament one hon. Member of the Socialist Party, who is no longer here, made an impassioned plea that the motor car industry should be nationalised. Both management and workmen in the industry have made a great contribution in the country's present difficulties. I was interested in what Lord Nuffield said a few weeks ago, to the effect that unless we created a greater home consumption for motor cars, the industry would be faced with difficulties. Lord Nuffield may be wrong, but I would back his experience and success in that industry when he makes that remark.

So far as private and chartered flying is concerned, I have some interest in that industry, though not very much. The charter companies have been rationed for petrol since they came into being at the end of the war. I believe that 80 per cent. of the flying done by charter companies takes place outside Britain. If that is the case, why are they rationed? Every month, or every quarter, my own company had to make application for petrol coupons. We get them in bundles, representing literally thousands of gallons, and at the end of every period the bulk of them are sent back to the regional offices. I contend that such a system is a complete waste of time and is grossly unfair, because the Government Corporation—British European Airways—which is free to carry out charter flights, does not have to apply to the Ministry for petrol coupons before undertaking such flights. Why should there be a differentiation between a Government controlled company and a civil company struggling to make a living and seeking to make a service pay?

It seems to me that if one applies for 500 gallons of petrol, one gets it right away, but if one asks for two or three gallons, there is a large amount of correspondence and delay. The other day I met a man who is selling a motor boat abroad. He applied for 500 gallons of petrol, and got it right away. But he told me that a short time ago he applied for two or three gallons in order to try out a charging plant and had no end of trouble getting it. That is the sort of thing about which I am complaining today. It makes things very difficult for people in business.

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) referred to Australia and mentioned what Mr. Menzies had done with regard to petrol. I am glad he said what he did. Although what the Australians do is no affair of ours, when Mr. Menzies mentioned, either just before or during the General Election, what he proposed to do he was criticised to some extent by hon. Members opposite, and telegrams were sent by the Prime Minister pointing out the difficulties. It seems that the Australian Government have got over those difficulties in a most successful way. The needs of Australia are in some ways different from ours, but, generally speaking, they are greater than ours. I understand that in Australia consumption has gone up by only 10 per cent. since the ration was taken off.

I want to make a plea this afternoon for the rural consumer who lives away in the hills, and who, perhaps, has a little car which he uses for both business and pleasure. It seems that such consumers are all lumped together and treated in exactly the same way. They are at a complete disadvantage compared with the people living in the towns. While rationing continues, I hope that the needs of such people will be judged on their merits. In my constituency there is a home for disabled ex-Service men—paraplegics. These men have been given motor cars by the Ministry of Pensions for which they are very grateful, and I am sure that the House is delighted that they should have been given the cars. But they depend on the cars for their every movement.

I recently applied to the Parliamentary Secretary for an increase in their petrol ration. He wrote a very courteous letter in reply and said he could not give such an increase, but that if there were a special case he would look into it. It seems quite wrong that these men, many of them paralysed from the hip downwards, should have to write to Members of Parliament to get a little extra petrol. There are only a few hundred of them in the country, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look into the matter again to see if he cannot do something to help them in their difficulties.

We on this side have been criticised because we do not give the actual figures. But how can we give the figures if we are never told what they are? From information gained outside and from other countries we believe it is possible to take petrol off the ration, if not now, at any rate in the near future. That would bring about a large saving in personnel and money, and would, I believe, put a terrific impetus into the whole country. It would enable people of all classes to go about their jobs energetically and to take their holidays in comfort. I beg the Government not to treat this matter as they did the 5s. limit on meals, which could have been taken off six or eight months ago—it was kept on far too long—but to approach it in the right way and to give a real incentive to our people by abolishing petrol rationing.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) covered a very wide field. He started by talking about the fuel crisis, among other things, and eventually got as far as Australia. But I do not think he made any real attempt to prove that this was a really substantial and justified Motion. I have listened to most of the speeches in this Debate and very few, £f any, of the speakers opposite have made any attempt at all to analyse what would be the cost of derationing petrol in terms of increased consumption, whether it came from resources outside or inside the sterling area. I think that is the crux of the whole matter.

I well remember the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. G. Lloyd) speaking in the last Debate we had on this subject—I think it was on 27th March—when he pointed out that there were 4 million metric tons of surplus oil in the sterling area which, if used in substitution for dollar petrol at present being used in the sterling area, would result in a saving of 60 million dollars. Are we justified at this time in throwing away such a saving?

At the beginning of this week the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) spoke about the grave difficulties of our economic situation. He played down the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer declaring that he had been far too optimistic in his build-up of the sterling area's gold and dollar resources. He was followed later in that Debate by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) who said that we had done well and proclaimed himself the apostle of danger. We now find, three or four days later, back benchers opposite proclaiming themselves apostles of danger. They are advising us to live dangerously and to act dangerously—to eat into these hardly built-up dollar resources, and, instead of making an effort to conserve and build them up still further, to take action which would, on their own calculations, considerably cut them down.

I entirely agree with what was said by an hon. Member on this side who suggested that this matter should be looked at, not from the point of view of the individual, but from that of the national situation. If we do that, I can see no justification at all for endangering the economic stability of this country, of the whole sterling area and of our future in order to satisfy, or to make an effort to redeem, some of the irresponsible speeches made on Conservative platforms during the General Election. It is even worse than that.

I am sorry the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) has left the Chamber—[An HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."]—because I can remember one of his pleasant and entertaining speeches of the garden fete type toeing rehearsed in this House not so very long ago. He was then declaiming about the evils of the licensing authorities. He was pleading, as had many of his colleagues on the other side, that we should give far more licences to people who applied for them for road transport vehicles. If we applied that taking away of controls, plus the one that was suggested a few minutes ago by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) when he quoted Lord Nuffield's statement that we wanted a bigger supply of cars for the home market——

Air-Commodore Harvey

I did not say that I necessarily agreed with what Lord Nuffield said, but that in view of his wide experience and success we ought to take heed of his statements and carefully consider them.

Mr. Ross

I do not see much difference between what the hon. and gallant Member is saying and the interpretation I put upon it. If we put those suggestions into practice it would mean far more private vehicles on the roads of this country. I wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman had related that point to the statement made on the same week-end by a gentleman more famous for some other kind of action—Mr. Lord. Speaking to Canadian businessmen in London, he said we would be able to give the Canadians more cars if only this Government would give more steel. One cannot have it both ways. If we have cars for the home market and we want cars to build up our dollar trade with Canada, we cannot have them in both places at once. We have had this plea for the building up of road transport and private transport from the other side of the House and the plea for the freeing of controls by licensing. If we add to those this demand today for a freeing of petrol restrictions then we shall have a tremendously increased consumption of petrol.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

The hon. Gentleman has quite misconceived the position. As he has quoted me may I correct him? I was not complaining about licensing. What I said was that the Road Haulage Executive—not an independent authority—have been given power by the Socialists to refuse licences to private owners, force them out of business and then take over their vehicles. That is not an increase in the number of vehicles, it is merely the smashing of private enterprises so as to take them over in a public monopoly, and the petrol ration is being used to attain that same end.

Mr. Ross

I do not think I am misconstruing the argument used by the hon. Gentleman and also by one of his colleagues who sits in the benches behind him and who said, "Give them all licences." If we increase the number of licences and the number of private motorists on the road and, at the same time, withdraw all restrictions on petrol, we shall get a greatly increased consumption of petrol. That means that we should greatly increase the dollar cost to this country of that petrol and greatly decrease the possibility of substituting surplus sterling petrol for the dollar petrol that is at present being used within the sterling area.

Figures were given by the Parliamentary Secretary in the last Debate when he said that last year the sterling area had to use 13 million tons of dollar petrol. If we are not going to cut down the dollar costs of that petrol purely and simply to satisfy these demands that are now being made, irrespective of the effect on the economy of the country, then we are being less than fair to our constituents and to our country. I might have been inclined to support this Motion if during the past five or six years, the position had been that the Ministry of Fuel and Power had dug in its heels and refused to budge in any way at all to consider the just claims of various sections of the motoring public. But, on the whole, taking it right through, they have been considerate to the claims. They have not changed their policy but they have carried out their promises and pledges in accordance with the position at the time.

I can remember pleas for the abolishing of petrol rationing by some hon. Members opposite in 1946 and 1947. I can remember some hon. Gentlemen, when we were in difficulties over the dollar loan, telling us we had thrown it all away on petrol and films. Hon. Gentlemen opposite like to have it both ways. They just cannot have it both ways. They either have to consider the individual whom, presumably, they wish to please, or consider their own responsibility as Members for the economic stability of this country.

I am satisfied that the Government have carried out its policy and its pledge. The pledge was given in March by the Parliamentary Secretary when he said: That does not mean to say we shall not look at the general oil situation and from time to time make all easements we can in the light of the economic circumstances of the country. We have never failed to do that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 522.] I place my confidence in the Ministry of Fuel and Power to consider more than the interests of the individual or individual sections.

May I make a reply to the hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the agricultural areas? I do not think the farmers want their oil and petrol to be de-rationed while everyone else remains in the frustrating shackles of rationing, quite apart from its being impossible administratively as well as morally. Speaking as one who represents an agricultural area to a considerable extent, I have not had a single complaint from a farmer about his being short of petrol or his being denied petrol during the last 18 months. There was slight difficulty over the harvest of 1948, mainly because of the extent and lateness of that harvest. When the danger was realised the Ministry of Fuel and Power got on to it right away and co-operated with the farmers in the area and saw that their needs were met.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that his constituents may consider it a waste of time to write to him on these matters?

Mr. Ross

I have never found my constituents considering it a waste of time to see me. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that, despite his incursion into Ayrshire, I am still here and the fanners of my area come and see me when they want to do so. On the occasion to which I have referred they wrote to me and, knowing them, I am perfectly sure that they are not very backward about getting on to that kind of business when it affects them. I hope the Government will not do anything to prevent our getting on top of the most important problem not just of this year but of this age for this country, namely the whole question of dollar costs and the closing of the dollar gap.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

First, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), the mover and seconder of the Motion, because I think that our Debate today has very much justified the resumption of Private Members' Time and they have rendered a service to their constituents and to the public in bringing forward the perfectly legitimate grievances that are felt widely in the country. After all, this House, particularly on Private Members' days, provides a good opportunity for the ventilation of proper grievances for the purpose of eliciting a reply from the Government.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover was certainly lucky in the Ballot, and I think he has also been lucky in the date on which his Motion has come before the House, because we have been informed in the Press today that this week-end is to be the great week-end for new thought by the party opposite. I understand that 70 people altogether, including 18 members of the Cabinet and 27 members of the Labour Party Executive, are to congregate at Dorking to think out afresh their problems. In a very witty and penetrating article in the "Manchester Guardian" I saw that they were even going to try to find a new soul for the party because they thought that the thinking on which their party policy is based was, in fact, all done before 1914, and they want to bring themselves up to date.

I was hoping that as there is this atmosphere of new thought in the air, we might find a spirit of it in regard also to petrol, more particularly as the "Manchester Guardian" article said what, I think, applies both to the general question and also very much to this matter of petrol; namely, that one of the great embarrassments which the party opposite were finding in seeking their new soul and policy was that they were afraid to admit their past errors with regard, for example, to nationalisation and, I suggest also, with regard to petrol, for fear that we on this side might take undue advantage of it.

I would like to point out that the Minister will be making his first speech on a petroleum subject since he took his new office. For myself, I must admit that I cannot resist giving him a personal welcome. I know it is not fashionable in these days to refer to the fact that people on both sides of the House served together in a previous Government in times of considerable difficulty, but it does happen that the right hon. Gentleman and I were at that time associated in this very matter of petrol and transport. At that time it was I, at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who was rationing him at the Ministry of Transport, because the arrangement is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power, being a petrol Department, makes a bulk allocation to the Ministry of Transport, and I may say that those allocations, unlike the recent coal allocations, were always met in full. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was then dealing with it from the transport angle. Now of course, the rôles are reversed and he has to ration us all, or at least feels that he has to do so.

I am hoping that the right hon. Gentleman may bring a new atmosphere to this problem. Indeed, he is, in a way, a kind of Parliamentary petroleum debutante today. If he will not disdain it, I would like to tell him of some experiences I had when I was on the opposite side of the House which are strictly germane to this problem which faces the House. It was just before the end of the war, when I could see that the consumption of the Armed Forces, particularly the Air Force, which was, of course, running at a tremendous figure, would fall directly victory was attained. I thought, therefore, that it would be a good thing to give the public back some petrol in the form of a basic ration as quickly as possible—not to wait for them to have to ask for it but to give it because I thought they deserved it, and I wished to get the thing arranged before the end of the war so that we could act quickly when the time came. If I may say so, it was a little practical Conservative planning.

What I should like particularly to bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is this. What happened when I raised the subject? First of all, I found that the Post Office were not ready to distribute ration books. It was said that it would be impossible. Then I had to consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Chancellors are always formidable in every Government, but Sir John Anderson did give his consent. But then—and this is the point I should particularly like to bring out—it was the turn of the Ministry of Supply who said, "Ah, even if you have got the petrol you must not let people have it because our rubber situation is very difficult. It will make it very difficult to hold the tyre ration in position." The line I took was that we were in danger of getting into a vicious circle of restrictions, that somebody had to make a beginning in restoring a greater freedom, and that, at any rate, even if there was some difficulty with regard to the supply of tyres, we ought to supply the petrol at least to those people who had tyres on their cars.

I only mention that to show the kind of vested interest in restriction that grows up within the actual apparatus of Government once we have all this kind of thing going on. Of course, in my case I had the great advantage of a Prime Minister who was a man of immense administrative virility and who was taking a much greater interest in the actual way in which the machine of Government touched the lives of the ordinary people in this country than most of the public had any conception of.

I will conclude these observations by saying that I do not think that we shall get the abolition of petrol rationing unless somebody at the Ministry of Fuel and Power fights very hard to get it. I would say, without wishing to wound people more than necessary, that in recent times it has seemed to me as if the Ministry of Fuel and Power was becoming less an independent Ministry than a sub-department of the Treasury. I am not suggesting that there should be any fundamental disagreement, but my experience is that the British system of government works best if there is a thorough cut and thrust of debate within the Government before policy is decided, as well as later on the Floor of the House.

We must face the fact that petrol has been a subject of major controversy between the parties on both sides of the House. We feel that the Government have been unsympathetic, clumsy and slow in their handling of the matter, and, as the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) and other Members said earlier, we have repeatedly criticised them in this House and in the country. In return they have criticised us. They have very much resented our criticisms and they have replied with a good deal of criticism which bordered upon abuse. I need only refer to such words as "irresponsible" with regard to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and the word "stunts" that was used when the proposal was made—not an extravagant proposal—that there should be a considerable increase in the basic ration. That was the proposal that my right hon. Friend brought before the country during the General Election.

We have also been told frequently that we are the people who want more petrol at the expense of food or houses or employment. That has been the argument, to which I propose to reply by saying this. These wounding observations were made in the country at the time when we were proposing to make a considerable increase in the basic ration; but soon after the House met again—when the balance of political power was very different—it was the Government themselves who proposed the doubling of the basic ration. I have not observed that any of the dire consequences that they prophesied during the Election have so far come to pass since the Chancellor's action in the Budget.

I should like to mention some of our main criticisms of the conduct of petroleum administration by the Government. We feel that the Government have not taken the country into their confidence on the facts. I do not mean only the facts of the internal petroleum supply position and rationing; I mean also the facts about the petroleum situation of the British companies operating throughout the world, having regard to its enormous importance in our general economic position. It was for that reason, since I observed that the Government themselves had never placed the different aspects of this problem in proper perspective, that I tried, in the Debate we had before Easter, to make the survey which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover this morning.

I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that on that occasion I did not make a critical speech—at least, I hope he will agree that that was so. I tried, on the whole, to make a constructive speech. The point I should like to bring out, however, is this: that when I wished to prepare myself to make this survey to the House I came up against the great difficulty of the extreme paucity of information about essential matters in connection with our oil situation, such as, for example, the dollar content of the petrols from the different areas, and how much dollar and how much sterling petrol was supplied to different parts of the sterling area, this country and foreign countries.

Luckily, I became aware of the fact that supplied to the Congress of the United States was a far more comprehensive range of statistics about the British oil situation than has been available to this House, and it was primarily upon the basis of the material prepared for the Committee on Inter-State and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives, which I had specially flown here, through the kindness of a friend in New York, that I was able to make that survey to the British House of Commons.

Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)

Did the hon. Gentleman have that information flown across from America before the party opposite announced their stunt during the election?

Mr. Lloyd

I had this information flown across because it was new at that time. It was available just before the Debate.

Mr. Adams

Then it was not available when the Tory Party made their pronouncements on the petrol situation during the election?

Mr. Lloyd

I hardly think the hon. Member would expect a British party to cease to make any observations on public policy because it had to wait for documents about British affairs to be furnished to a foreign Parliament.

Mr. Adams


Mr. Lloyd

I cannot give way again. If I may say so, I felt that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) illustrated the truth of the point I am making when he himself fell into what, if I may say so, was the rather curious error about the Kuwait Company. I am not referring to his remark about Anglo-Iranian, which I took to be a slip of the tongue, but to his argument that because there was a 50 per cent. holding of the Americans in the Kuwait oil company there was a large dollar element in the production. I think he thought it was perhaps 50 per cent.

Mr. Hale

I was not arguing that at all. In fact, I very rarely do argue; I am never controversial. What I was saying was the financial editor of the "News Chronicle" had said that.

Mr. Lloyd

But the hon. Member was, in fact, associating himself with the view of the editor of the "News Chronicle." I suggest that it would have been very much better if he had been able to base his arguments upon some reliable information given by a Minister of the Crown. In fact, of course, he was completely wrong, because that part of the 50 per cent. of the production of the Kuwait Company which is attributed to the English side of the concern, is probably that section of so-called sterling oil which has the smallest dollar element in it of any oil in the world today. I do not think the Minister will deny that.

I could spend more time on this point, but I want to push on because I think I have established its acceptance at least to some degree. We also feel that one of our main complaints against the Government is their disgraceful slowness in pushing ahead with refinery programmes. The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, seemed to think that a wonderful change had come over the world, in connection with refineries in England, since this Government came into office. Another hon. Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Oldham, West, or it may have been the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross)—asked us to visit Llandarcy and see the wonderful work going on there. I am informed that it was the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) who made that remark. They seemed to think that no refining was done there until this Government came into office, whereas, during the war it was one of our greatest English refineries. When that refinery was constructed, which was quite a long time ago—certainly long before the present Government came into office—anybody visiting that site would have been similarly encouraged by the great atmosphere of activity.

Mr. R. Williams

I thought I made myself perfectly clear when I said that what we should find was an immense expansion. I thought I made that absolutely clear.

Mr. Lloyd

Of course there is expansion. We expect that there should be expansion. There was expansion before. But the expansion at the present time is not enough and not quick enough.

I will now turn to the largest refinery project in the country at present. As a matter of fact, it is one of the largest refinery projects which has ever been carried through anywhere in the world at one time—the Fawley refinery, with a capacity of over five million tons of refined products, including two million tons of petrol. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that would entirely transform our petrol position in this country and throughout the sterling area and would probably permit the complete abolition of rationing—if that refinery came into operation.

Appreciating the great importance of this great project, one would have thought that it would have received particular care, but the right hon. Gentleman admitted, in reply to a Question put to him on Monday, that the Government were first approached about this refinery by a company in August, 1946. I take it that he meant the formal approaches were made then, because no doubt there was conversation with Ministers some time earlier. We also know that final approval for the beginning of the work on this refinery was not given until May—June of 1949—nearly three years afterwards. Does not the House think that, even with an important refinery, even having regard to the fact that there are strategic considerations to be taken into account and matters of town and country planning to be considered, nearly three years is an excessive time to take between the approach and the final permission? Would it be very unreasonable for me to suggest——

Mr. Hale


Mr. Lloyd

I am sorry; I cannot give way; I do not want to detain the House.

Would it be very unreasonable for me to suggest that one year might be sufficient for consulting the Defence Departments, considering town and country planning and deciding whether the refinery was to go ahead or not? Had that been the case, then the refinery would have been begun in August, 1947. We know from the recent explanation given by the Parliamentary Secretary that this refinery will take two-and-a-half years to complete, which means that if it had been begun in August, 1947, it would have been completed either by the end of last year or at the beginning of this year. Indeed, we should have been very grateful to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite if that refinery had been completed by February, for there would have then been no necessity for the acrimonious disputes between the parties about the petrol situation; we should have been able to give relaxations which would have made such disputes impossible.

The third main complaint that we have is that we do not feel that the Government fully appreciate the evils and disadvantages of rationing in their impact on people in this country. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, in a most peculiar passage in his speech, even went so far as to describe rationing as the planning of distribution.

Mr. Hale

I said that the planning of the distribution of what was available. There is a limited quantity of petrol available and more people want it than there is petrol available, and so there has to be a planned distribution.

Mr. Lloyd

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the passage I quoted was open to misunderstanding, to put it no higher. The point I want to make is one which I do not think hon. Members fully appreciate. If I may say so, there can be no question whatever of my sneering at civil servants because I had the responsibility of introducing the rationing scheme in the autumn of 1939, and I presided over it for a longer period than any other Member of this House—continuously for about 5½ years. I know the fine work which is done in that Department.

I want to point out the inherent difficulty of petrol rationing which makes it one of the most unsatisfactory forms of rationing. With regard to food and clothing, the physical limitations make it impossible to justify many more clothes or much more food either for one person or another, but everyone has realised that we have to adjust the supplementary ration within enormously wide limits to the needs of the person, which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do. I believe that in peace-time conditions it is practically impossible to do it fairly.

Even if we had a large body of the ablest men in the country engaged in trying to assess the complicated needs of the individual, I think we would have many mistakes; but when this work has to be done by a staff, not too-highly paid, it has to be governed by rigid rules, and the only flexibility we get in the system is that there is a limit to the degree of choice open to the officials of any particular rank, and we have to rely on complaints coming in from the public who have been unfairly rationed. Their complaints have gradually to filter up to the higher tiers of officials who have a slightly larger discretion in regard to the allowance of petrol. I think that everyone will agree that the Department does a good job under the circumstances, but everyone can see how difficult this rationing is, and we must have it in mind to get rid of it at the earliest possible opportunity.

Hon. Members opposite have bedevilled this matter to a large extent by bringing in the question of pleasure motoring. It is by no means easy to draw the line in this matter. Here, a supplementary ration is not given except under very stringent conditions for travelling to and from work, and regard is had as to the availability of public transport. If hon. Members will glance at the Anglo-American Productivity Team Report, which came out quite recently, and turn to that section which deals with the reasons for the high productivity of American labour, they will see an interesting passage about the importance of incentives, including the possession of motor cars by American workers. It says: The American worker will probably be fresher at the beginning of the day because he has driven to the job in his own car, instead of having travelled in overcrowded and uncomfortable public transport which may take a disproportionately longer time to cover a given distance. I said to myself: Is this rather theoretical or is there quite a lot in it? I decided to make investigations in Birmingham on the matter. The results were rather interesting. I do not propose to bother the House with many of them, but there is one which I would like to mention because it is particularly apposite to this statement.

Last week-end I spoke to a worker who owns and drives a small, 1934 vintage Austin which he purchased second-hand nearly two years ago for £85. This represented, at the time, all his own and his wife's savings. The man's wage averages about £7 11s. a week gross. He has one child aged 13 at a senior school, and he has a son who works in the same works as himself. His wife does part-time work for which she receives 26s. a week. He is a non-smoker and non-drinker and his car is his sole hobby and seems to be the family pet. I will not go into the details of finance, except to say that he only licenses his car for the summer months, which costs him, in all, £25 4s. 6d. and that on the basis of the mileage, which we worked out rather carefully, we found that it came to 6.72d. per mile. I ought to point out that he has been refused a supplementary allowance. I am not complaining about that, because it is according to the established rules, although he lives 15 minutes away from the nearest bus stop, and often has to queue like other people.

I asked him this crucial question: "Would you use more petrol and could you afford it if it was made available?" He said—and this is where it is relevant to the Report of the American Productivity Team—"If I could get more petrol I could then use the car to take us both"—himself and his son—"to work, and then we would save 5s. a week." That is their double fare to work, and that would save them £25 a year and bring down the cost per mile of his motoring to 1.2d. I can substantiate the figures if hon. Members are interested. I want to point out to the House that we are now on the line where we could do something to increase both contentment and incentives and raise the productivity of a considerable number of workers in this country if we were able to be freer with petrol. Can we do it?

In the Debate we had before Easter I tried to make a constructive speech. I said that my main object was not to attack the party opposite but to convince them that there was a good deal more in our case on this side of the House than they had previously thought, and I addressed myself to two particular, practical problems. I dealt, first, with the basic ration, and I challenge the Government to justify the precise allocation which they were making at that time. I got a dusty answer from the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that I was the nigger in the woodpile. Within a matter of days, the Chancellor of the Exchequer tacitly admitted the strength of our case and doubled the basic ration.

The other matter to which I addressed myself is much more important, and, indeed, is the fundamental issue. It is whether we can make available even larger petrol supplies than the small increase which has been given in the basic ration. The suggestion which I then made was that instead of the rather unilateral method of negotiation adopted by the Government, they should have a round table conference of both the American and British oil companies, in association with Government representatives, to see whether they could not, within the complicated structure of the oil industry, work out a solution.

Again, I received not a very forthcoming answer. However, I want to tell the House more precisely what I had in mind when I made that suggestion before Easter. What I had in mind, to be quite frank, was that the American companies might be prepared to accept sterling instead of dollars for their petrol. Members opposite may be surprised at that suggestion. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any information he can give us as to whether the American companies are prepared to accept sterling for their petrol instead of dollars, because, if so, it would transform the whole situation and give us more freedom of manoeuvre. I do not want to over-emphasise the difficulties. I am well aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have objections on financial principles in regard to anything in the way of blocked sterling.

Before we allow ourselves to reject, out of hand, on general grounds, a proposal of this kind, we ought to bear in mind the enormous amount of freedom it would mean for the people of this country, and also the fact that the oil industry, with regard to its equipment and tankers, which has always been a kind of entity on its own, being a little apart from other industries in regard to its financial and production arrangements——

Mr. W. T. Williams (Hammersmith, South)

Has the right hon. Gentleman any reason to believe that were any such suggestions made to the Americans, they would countenance them for one moment?

Mr. Lloyd

I was asking the Minister whether he can give the House the information, which I think we are entitled to know, whether he has made a suggestion of that kind, or whether he will entertain it, and, if not, his reasons for not doing so.

Perhaps I may be allowed to carry the idea one stage further. This money, in my view, could be spent on petroleum equipment, and more particularly upon tankers. There is anxiety about future employment in the shipbuilding industry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Irene Ward) has already expressed the anxiety felt on the North-East Coast, and the First Lord of the Admiralty has made a rather serious statement to the shipbuilding trades unions with regard to the future prospects of employment in that industry.

I would suggest that this is a matter which ought to be given serious consideration. It is not, as a matter of fact, out of proportion with the needs of the time. Five or six large tankers, of between 26,000 and 28,000 tons, such as the one launched recently in the north by Princess Margaret, costing about 3½ million dollars, would add up to some 20 million dollars a year. One must remember that the oil companies engaged in this trade have tanker fleets running into hundreds, and their replacement programme annually runs into scores. I should have thought it would have been a most intresting proposition from their point of view, as well as from ours, if some arrangement of this kind could be reached.

I conclude by saying, on this dollar question, that we must not assume all the dangers are attached to a progressive and constructive policy of the kind I have mentioned and all the safety is attached to the policy of status quo. Do Members realise, and I am pretty certain they do not, that at present we are exporting petroleum from British controlled oil companies to the tune of some 2½ million tons a year into the port of New York at a gain to ourselves of some 25 million dollars for the sterling pool?

The hon. Member for Coventry, South, who was in America, will know that in America the oil industry is a great domestic industry like the coal industry here. What would be the reactions of the mining Members in this House if there were a big importation of foreign coal in this country? There are the dangers implicit in that situation, unless we can reach some reasonable accommodation which is beneficial for us and for them. I must tell the House that only today news has come to us that the Inter-State Commerce Petroleum Committee has accepted a resolution that imports of foreign oil into the United States should be prohibited. Therefore, we must not assume that there are no grave dangers, from the dollar point of view, in continuing on our present basis.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to approach this matter in a much more constructive and practical way. I believe that if he does so, he will improve our relations with the United States, contribute to the stability of the British oil industry overseas and give a great access of freedom to a very large number of deserving people in this country.

3.5 p.m.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. G. Lloyd) for his kind welcome to me in my new office. He made a very unpolemical speech on the last occasion when we debated the subject and he has done so again today. I would say at once that those who sit on these benches hope for the day when the incentive mentioned by the Anglo-American Productivity Committee will be there for British workers as it is for workers in the United States. We hope that workers will be able to drive to their employment, buy their cars and afford the petrol. We believe that day will come. If it does come, it will come because the Labour Government have done something to equalise the incomes of the nation.

I have to ask the House to reject the Motion which the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) moved in his interesting speech and which the right hon. Member for King's Norton, with the authority of his long years of office, has supported. I ask the House to reject it for reasons which my hon. Friends on this side have set out in their Amendment. The Motion rests on two propositions which nobody who knows the facts can possibly accept. The first amounts to a suggestion of something which is not true. The second involves a suppression of part of what is true. The first is the statement, which the right hon. Gentleman repeated, that, for inadequate reasons, the Government have failed to give the motoring public of the nation the petrol which they could and should have had and that, by incompetence, lack of vision or foresight, lack of drive and bad management, and without good cause, they have imposed an anomalous and grave injustice upon the people and the motorists of all parties who wanted to have and should have had more petrol, freer use of their cars for business convenience, for the taking of holidays that they need and the pleasure which constitutes so much of all that makes life worth while.

The motion is the House of Commons version of what the right hon. Member for King's Norton said in the General Election three months ago. Speaking at Doncaster, he said that if the Conservatives were returned they would make a substantial increase in the petrol ration. The right hon. Gentleman did not know the dollar position. He said that the Conservatives would have increased this ration considerably had they been returned to power in 1945. Those statements, and the speeches made on the other side, have taken no account of the fact that the petrol used in Britain has gone on increasing steadily since the end of the war. In 1945, it was 3,300,000; in 1948, it was 4,264,000, and in 1950, 5,090,000 tons.

The speeches have taken no account of the fact that cars and motor bicycles are more in number on the roads of our country than they were before the war. Leaving out agricultural tractors and the immense increase in lorries from 450,000 commercial lorries before the war to nearly 800,000 now——

Mr. Lloyd

Would the right hon. Gentleman excuse me? On the question of fact as to the numbers of motor cars licensed, the figures I have here and which I believe are official—they are from P.E.P.—show that in 1939, 2,034,000 cars were licensed whereas, in 1949, the figure was 2,035,000, an increase of 1,000.

Mr. Noel-Baker

My figure includes motor bicycles. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] In any case, the figures with which I am furnished from official sources are, for August, 1938, 2,450,000; August, 1949, 2,724,000. I prefer official sources even to P.E.P.

Complaints have been made today bout the price of petrol. Everybody knows the results of comparisons of the prices here with those on the Continent, of which hon. Members opposite have spoken in such ardent tones. In Italy, for example, the cost of petrol is 5s. 8d. a gallon; in West Germany, 4s. 7d.; in France, 4s. 4d., and so on. We consume, of course, seven times as much petrol per head of the population as Italy, and a great deal more than most other countries. The truth is that on the Continent petrol plays a far smaller part in the life of the nation. The dependence of those countries on overseas supplies of food and raw materials is far less, and their balance of payments problems far easier, than ours; and the prices which I have quoted show that in a great measure petrol is rationed by the price.

The Motion and the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite imply that the Government have not done all that they could to meet the needs and wishes of the people. Above all, however, those speeches and the Motion really do not take proper account of the basic economic fact by which the Government have been moved. The dollar shortage—I am sorry to weary the House with this again—is essential to the whole thing. The petrol problem is part of the dollar problem. The two things just cannot be torn apart. The petrol bill has been a major factor in our dollar and gold deficit.

The right hon. Member for King's Norton would have given more petrol to the people since 1945, and he would have increased the supply still further since February, 1950. We do not know how much he would have given in dollars—we cannot tell; but I suppose he would have given not less than 500,000 tons per annum, and one million tons, perhaps, since February of this year. On that basis I calculate that the extra petrol which he would have given would have cost the nation 170 million dollars to date.

Mr. Lloyd

I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like him to do justice to my argument, which is that the increase of petrol would have been given if we had carried out a successful negotiation upon the lines that I have developed.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there was any negotiation which we could have made in 1945 that would have got us dollars for petrol? If so, I hope he will explain the plan in rather more detail.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals which went back to 1945, and what he said in February, would have cost the nation 170 million dollars. That would have been a heavy addition to our dollar deficit, which has been far too big. I find it hard to reconcile what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have said today about petrol with what they are always saying to us about the economic ruin that threatens the country, about living on American charity, about the immensity of our task in closing the dollar gap, and about the inadequacies of the measures which we have taken to close it.

Of course the dollar gap is grave. Let me repeat to the House the basic figures which are given in the Economic Survey for this year: 1947, 4,100 million dollars; 1948, 1,700 million dollars; 1949, 1,500 million dollars. That is tremendous progress, but we have not yet closed the gap. Who can say with full assurance on the other side of the House that in all the circumstances, whatever happens in other countries, we shall close the gap by the time that Marshall Aid has ended in 1952? How can we close it? By expanding exports to the dollar markets; by restricting dollar imports; by the restriction of consumption here of dollar products; by switching the purchasing of essential imports from dollar to non-dollar sources. The House knows all we have done about food and raw materials.

Let the House note this: 625 million dollars, unless something new happens, will be spent this year on oil.

Mr. Lloyd

That is the net figure, not the gross figure?

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is the net figure, calculated at the beginning of this year. Confronted with that situation we have done with oil what we have done with food and other essentials. We have controlled consumption, not of essential oil required to make industry efficient, not of oil required for full employment and the greater productivity of labour, but of oil, of petrol, which, while we have wanted it, while we should have been very glad to have had it, was not absolutely essential to our national life. If we had adopted the right hon. Gentleman's plan and had given more petrol we should have been 170 million dollar further from our goal. Petrol rationing has been a part—a regrettable and regretted part—of our national plan.

Hon. Members opposite have asked today, Why use dollar oil? Why not use sterling oil—the oil which British companies produce? It is quite clear that the House understands that British oil has a large element of dollar cost. The reason is well known in this House. I hope it is becoming plain to the motoring public. Providence has not ordained that oil should be found in any considerable amount inside the Commonwealth. The British companies, with those of the United States, lead the world in oil production. Our companies' production is between a third and a quarter of that of those of the United States; but the United States consume most of their oil at home, and they use, as the right hon. Gentleman said, about two-thirds of the world's supplies. Between them the British and the American companies hold the predominant position in the international trade. They are about 50–50—almost equal.

The British oil is drawn not from the Commonwealth but from countries outside, and everywhere where it is produced the companies have to pay some dollars in the conduct of their work. Of course, it varies from place to place. The House knows quite well what it is. In Venezuela, for example, they have to pay the staffs and workers in a currency which is equivalent to dollars; they have to pay royalties in dollars; they have to pay taxes to the Government, and the rest; and we have had to construct a refinery there because it was one of the conditions of the contract. In other places the dollar content is less. In the Middle Eastern countries it is much less, but there is always a dollar element: tankers, oil equipment, sometimes a gold clause in the royalty agreement, and other things. Even in Kuwait there is a dollar cost.

It was estimated last December that the dollar expenditure of the oil companies controlled by British interests—I am going to call them British companies for short—would in 1950 be 535 million dollars. They will produce this year about 81 million tons of oil. Its value is calculated at about 1,700 million dollars. That means that the average dollar content of oil produced by British companies under British control, as I said on Monday last at Questions, is about 30 per cent.

In some countries, of course, it is higher than it is in others, but it is really misleading to look at the dollar costs in one country and to imply that we in this country could buy oil from that country without considering the world wide work of the companies as a whole. It is the average of a company's costs throughout the world that concerns us. These companies have to serve the whole sterling area. They earn a lot of foreign exchange in countries outside. If they sell low dollar cost petrol to the United Kingdom they have got to sell high dollar cost petrol to other people. If they sell it inside the sterling area then the result is just the same, because we have the sterling area pool of dollars. If they sell it outside then the earnings of foreign exchange are correspondingly reduced.

We cannot say to the British companies—and this is the fundamental error into which hon. Members opposite have fallen—" Divide your trade into small compartments. Never mind about the true costs of supplying different markets. Never mind about the transport costs. Send this particular lot of petrol to this destination—low-dollar cost petrol to the United Kingdom. Never mind how that affects your general trade or costs elsewhere." Of course we cannot order the companies to distribute their exports from foreign countries in that way. It would be grossly unfair.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if that is not what we do with regard to our coal in this country? We export it at a vastly increased price over the production cost here.

Mr. Noel-Baker

With great respect, that is a different point and I am quite prepared to argue it with the hon. Lady on another occasion.

As I was saying, it would be grossly unfair to the companies. It would be worse than useless to the sterling area. On balance we should lose. It would be useless to the United Kingdom itself. On top of the dollar cost of sterling petrol, we expect this year to spend 350 million dollars on American oil for the sterling area. The dollar content of that American oil is at present 90 per cent. That dollar expenditure cannot be reduced unless we have a surplus of sterling oil over everything we need for all our British companies' markets. Until we have that surplus, if we consume more oil here, we must buy dollar oil. More consumption means more dollars and up to the beginning of this year that has always been true.

Faced with those basic facts what have His Majesty's Administration tried to do? They have sought to reduce the dollar element in sterling petrol; to reduce the dollar cost of dollar petrol; to increase the supplies of sterling oil; to increase the production of crude oil by British companies; to increase the refining capacity in this country. What have we done to reduce the dollar cost of sterling petrol? Tankers were mentioned. We built a million tons. Mention has been made of oil plant, machinery and equipment. We have encouraged our manufacturers to make it. We have given them more steel, more factory space, labour and machinery. We have given them full Government support. In 1946 our production of oil equipment was only £33½ million. In 1948 it had risen to £64 million.

Mr. Lloyd

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he would not want to take credit to the present administration for something done by the Coalition Government. The right hon. Gentleman said they had done this in regard to the expansion of the production of refining equipment. In fact, it was under the previous Government that we got the manufacturers together, told them about the post-war problem and encouraged them to undertake a vast increase in their production.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I do not want to take any credit for anything done by the Coalition Government. What I am saying is that we are giving this full support. With many other pressing claims we gave priority to it. We gave labour, materials, machinery and all the rest. We have embarked on a refinery programme here in the United Kingdom which will increase the economic strength of the nation; and that is desirable on strategic and international grounds. It will reduce the foreign exchange cost of the oil products we use, and the dollar cost of the dollar oil we use; because when the American companies refine their American oil in this country they have of course a large sterling element, as we have a dollar element elsewhere.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

What about Canada?

Mr. Noel-Baker

There is not any Canadian oil coming in that I am aware of. Before the war, the companies were building refineries, but they built them overseas. Almost none were built here. After the war, the companies decided that they would like to build refineries here. Again, we gave them warm encouragement. We thought that there would be many gains.

The right hon. Member for King's Norton says that we have been guilty of disgraceful delay in this matter. The companies laid their proposals before the Government at various times between August, 1946, and April, 1947. We had to consider the whole programme of refineries together. We could not decide on one without deciding on the rest. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that immense interests were involved—strategic, economic, transport, distribution of industry, building labour and materials and other considerations. The last proposals came in April, 1947, and the programme was approved in August, 1947.

One of my hon. Friends quoted the White Paper which said that there were other competing demands for the resources required by the refineries—electricity generation, steel production, factory building, housing for people and all the rest. The steel shortage was the worst, because in 1948 alone the British oil companies wanted 650,000 tons of steel for this programme. Nevertheless, work began on the sites at Stanlow—[Interruption.] I will come to Fawley in a moment. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite is worried about that. Work began on the sites at Stanlow, Shellhaven, and Llandarcy in April, 1947, and at Grangemouth in December of that year.

The right hon. Gentleman made special complaint about Fawley and he gave some dates. Let me comment upon them. The very first approach by the Anglo-American company was made in August, 1946. Their proposal was approved by the Government, in principle, with the rest of the programme in 1947. That reduces by one year the delay of which he complained. Work began in May, 1949–20 months later. That is a long time, I agree. But has the right hon. Gentleman considered this point? Has he remembered that Southampton and the surrounding area had been very heavily bombed? Has he remembered that Fawley required a great force of building and civil engineering labour, and that that labour was in urgent demand for reconstructing Southampton and rehousing the people? That was one of the major factors. There were some others which, if I had the time, I could explain.

Those factors lead to a rather longer delay over Fawley than over the other refineries. But, in the meantime, the planning had gone forward, the designing of the plant had been done by the company and, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said a month ago, we hope that Fawley will be in full operation at the end of 1951. That is a year before the target date which had been planned. I do not think that is a bad record.

These five refineries have been under construction for periods varying from 12 to 24 months. At Stanlow and Llandarcy the first distillation units came into operation at the end of 1949. Other units will come into operation in 1950 and 1951. At the beginning of 1952, at the latest, all of these refineries will be in operation. That is a great achievement. I hope that the House will understand clearly the difference it has made to the economic strength of the country.

In 1939, before the war, the total volume of crude oil refined in this country was 2,360,000 tons; in 1948, it was 4,500,000 tons; in 1949, it was 6,333,000 tons; in 1950, we hope that it will be nearly 9 million tons; in 1951, 12,500,000 and in 1952, 18,000,000. That great advance has not only reduced the dollar cost of petrol, but has also increased the total amount of sterling oil products available to us and to the world. We are reaching the point at which we have more sterling oil products than we need at the moment for the markets which the British oil companies serve. In view of our general dollar situation, we thought that we must try to make dollar savings with this surplus, or to do in the sterling area what we have done with food and other things, and switch purchases of oil from dollar to sterling sources.

That is a very delicate matter. When we have the British and American companies sharing in almost equal parts the international trade of the world, can we really do what some hon. Members seemed to suggest and just push the Americans out of all the markets like that? Of course, not. We should start a major oil war, and throw an apple of discord between ourselves and the American State Department which would have immense and terrible repurcussions. We have got to work together with the Americans; the oil companies have to work together; as they have done in so many things in times gone by. They are really joint trustees for a commodity which is vital for defence, for agriculture, for industry, for many countries of the world which have no oil of their own.

We do not proceed in that way, but we did propose a plan for substitution—to use our surplus to save dollars and make our dollar position really safe. We wanted to reduce still further the 625 million dollars bill for oil which the sterling area would otherwise have to pay this year. In that substitution plan, we had one object alone. We did not want to discriminate against American companies or deprive them of legitimate trade, or make any country dependent on British oil alone. We are not in favour of monopoly, in the Commonwealth or elsewhere. Our only concern is to help to close the dollar gap.

At Washington last year, it was recognised that the achievement of that object was a common interest not only of ourselves, the sterling area, the United States and Canada, but of the world at large. In our talks in Washington, we have for months past been doing what the right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested today. We have made it plain that we should be glad to take more American oil if we could together find some way by which they could purchase more goods from us and thereby enable us to pay with dollars for the extra oil we took. That is the central idea of our incentive plan. It starts from the premise that the American oil producers and British oil concerns have a common interest which will help both our countries to promote the solution of the dollar difficulty. I cannot tell the House all about the negotiations, but I will say a word or two about them.

Our proposals were these. We would limit the extent of substitution of sterling for dollar oil which we would carry out during the period of Marshall Aid and, in addition, we would take more American oil by reference to any extra purchases which they make from us. We have been negotiating both with the American Government and with the American Oil Companies for a long time, and we have had a lot of offers from the American companies.

In August last, the Jersey Company, which is of very high standing as the right hon. Gentleman knows, asked if they could sell oil for sterling to countries like Argentina, Denmark and Holland, which could not afford to pay dollars for American oil. They undertook to spend as much as possible of that sterling in this country or in the sterling area, but they asked for the remainder to be converted into dollars, and they talked about coverting up to 50 per cent. We were very sorry about this, but we thought that 50 per cent. was too high. Early this year, after the substitution plan had started, they came forward with a second proposal, much the same as the first, but including the United Kingdom in the area for which they would sell for sterling. They made definite the figure of up to 50 per cent. for conversion into dollars of sales made for sterling both inside and outside the sterling area. Again, we very much appreciated the spirit in which that proposal was made. We looked at it very sympathetically, but we were satisfied that it would cost too many dollars and could not be accepted.

Caltex, the other big company which serves us here, made another plan a little while ago under which they undertook to reduce the content of their oil very substantially if they could be allowed to sell it for sterling freely. We are still discussing that plan with them, and have asked them to produce figures showing how they propose to reduce the dollar cost of their oil.

We have had another offer. We are discussing it now, but I am afraid I cannot tell the House any more about it today. I said on Monday that I am quite sure that no hon. Member would wish me this afternoon to say anything that would delay a result or that might hamper or obstruct our ultimate success. Both the Americans and we want to reach agreement very soon. As soon as we can, we will tell the House. I submit that we have had a splendid record in the matter we have been discussing this afternoon.

Mr. Lloyd

Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to his splendid record, may I say this about these very important negotiations? What he has just said is more important than anything which has been said in this House this afternoon—that he is engaged in important negotiations with the American companies. We wish him well in those negotiations, and we hope they may have a fruitful result for both sides.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the American companies will appreciate it as much as I do. I was saying that I think this Government have a splendid record in this matter which we have been discussing this afternoon. By controlling oil consumption we have made a great contribution to the closing of the dollar gap; we have made great strides in cutting down the dollar cost of sterling oil, and we have cut down the dollar cost of dollar oil. We are negotiating for more petrol without adding to our dollar purchases.

During the General Election, my predecessor made a statement about this subject. He said that if the dollar position improved steadily the prospects of an increased petrol ration were not bad.

Mr. Lloyd

That was contradicted by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The dollar position has improved. He said that talks were now going on to see if we could get extra petrol without spending dollars. I have told the House that these talks have been going on since then and are continuing today. He said that we should certainly do away with rationing as soon as we could afford the extra supplies. That statement was made with full Government authority and support. It was a pledge to the electors. By that pledge we stand.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I am sorry that in an otherwise lucid speech the Minister of Fuel and Power should introduce some serious inaccuracies, and not a little party controversy. It is quite in order for a back bencher's Motion to be of a party character, and to be answered as such by back benchers opposite, but, surely, we are entitled on this occasion to a Ministerial statement which does not open by suggesting that when all incomes are equalised labourers will be able to go to their work in motor cars? I can assure hon. Members opposite that it will not come about in that way at all. It will not come by equalising incomes, but by increasing productivity and raising incomes. It was unfortunate that he should suggest that there were more motor cars licensed today than before the war. The implication was that a very considerable increase had taken place whereas, in fact, it has not. It thereby throws into doubt the accuracy of all his other figures, which we, on this side of the House, are not in a position to check.

He also went on to deal with the price of petrol in European countries, leaving out of account altogether the fact that in many European countries there is no licence duty and the whole amount of road revenue is obtained by taxing petrol. It is extremely unfair, therefore, to compare petrol prices on the Continent of Europe with those prevailing in this country. If a true comparison is to be obtained, then to the cost of buying the basic ration of petrol in this country should be added the total cost of licensing a car for the month or year concerned.

The Minister went to great pains to explain the size of our dollar gap. We, on this side of the House, are just as aware of the problem as he is. Indeed, we realise the immense dollar cost of petroleum products. We are glad that the tremendous programme of post-war refinery construction should be succeeding so well because it will be a great monument to private enterprise in this country. It was conceived by private firms and is being carried out under private enterprise.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive my interrupting him, but I have just been given the definite official figures for cars and motor cycles. In 1938 private cars numbered 1,944,000. In 1949 they numbered 2,104,000. In 1938 motor cycles numbered 462,000. In 1949 they were 625,000.

Mr. Lloyd

Since the right hon. Gentleman is obviously giving the information for my benefit rather than for that of my hon. Friend, I hope he will excuse me if I remind him that while there has been the increase which he mentions during the last 10 years, during the 10 years before 1939—"the years of Tory misrule"—the figure for motor cars registered in this country increased by a million or 100 per cent.

Mr. Erroll

I now want to pass on to the real crux of the argument, and that is that there is a dollar content not only in petrol used in this country but in all oil products used here.

During this Debate the emphasis seems to have been on the dollar content in petrol, but there is just as much dollar content in fuel oil, diesel oil, gas oil, tractor vaporising oil and lubricating oil. What is significant is that, if the dollar content of oil products is so important, there is in fact only one sector which is closely rationed and supervised. To all intents and purposes one can get all the fuel oil, all the diesel oil, all the gas oil, all the tractor vaporising oil, and, indeed, all the red petrol one wants, but the whole apparatus of rationing is concentrated on only one sector of the field, namely white spirit for motor cars.

I know the seconder of our Motion referred to the difficulties that one of his constituents was experiencing in obtaining supplies of red petrol for his lorries. But he was only a private operator. There is no difficulty for the nationalised road haulage organisation in getting all the petrol they want. The proposer of the Motion asked the Minister to explain what sort of rationing of red petrol there was for the nationalised industry. He had no reply. We know that the rationing of red petrol is applied purely for political purposes and not because of its dollar content.

Furthermore, there is no question of applying rationing to gas oil. We never hear about the dollar content of coal gas. It is quite considerable, because, owing to the poor quality of gas and coking coal supplied to gasworks, there is a large element of dollar-content gas oil employed all over the country to enrich the output of coal gas. That is not rationed. No steps are taken to keep an eye on that consumption. Yet if we are in fact to reduce the dollars spent on oil products, it is just as important to keep an eye on all oil products and not concentrate our whole attention upon the petrol used for private motoring which is indeed only one-tenth of the total consumption.

The fact is that only one-tenth of the total consumption is subject to any practical restriction whatsoever. If the Government were really honest they would supervise the consumption carefully and scrupulously throughout the whole range, applying their attention particularly to diesel fuel, red petrol and tractor vaporising oil. But rationing is not done for that purpose at all. In the continuance of petrol rationing we see only another vendetta against the private motorist. It is a hangover from the last Parliament when we saw so much class discrimination of the basest sort. So called pleasure motoring is to stand condemned. Yet two cars out of every three on the roads today get supplementary rations, showing that they are not engaged upon pleasure motoring at all but on purposes which are regarded as essential by the rationing authority itself.

We must remember, too, the extremely deleterious effect which continued rationing has upon American tourist traffic to this country. They do not take the trouble to find out what the rationing system is. They merely say, "There is rationing in England but not in France, so we will ship our cars to France and just stay two days in England on the way there." The probability is that if we could have some more Americans motoring in this country, the dollars they would spend here would enable us to close the petrol "gap." In all this matter we are in great danger of breaking our economic neck by falling out of the groundfloor window. The gap as far as petrol is concerned is only of the order of 600,000 tons, as the proposer of the Motion so ably described.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The other day the right hon. Gentleman said it was one and a half million tons. In fact, we estimate that abolishing the rationing of private petrol would cost about one million tons a year.

Mr. Lloyd

In the sterling area?

Mr. Noel-Baker

It is 200,000 tons in the sterling area and one million here; 1.2 million, to be precise.

Mr. Erroll

Petrol rationing has been abolished in many parts of the sterling area. I am concerned mainly with the effect of abolishing it in the United Kingdom. I will gladly accept the Minister's figure of one million tons instead of 600,000 tons. It still shows how relatively small the gap is. In order to damp down consumption by as little as a million tons a year we are to have the whole apparatus of rationing—and how expensive it is to our national economy!

As regards the staff of the Ministry of Fuel and Power alone, to the 1,700 in that Department must be added the 480 in the Ministry of Transport, plus the expenditure on office accommodation and other office overheads—a total sum expended of over £1 million a year, equivalent to ½d. a gallon on the price of petrol. Then on the companies side, the companies administering rationing estimate the extra administrative costs to be equivalent to 10 per cent. on their costs of distribution. Earlier speakers have referred to the immense burden of clerical work which falls upon the small garages, particularly when they can only order their supplies in minimum quantities because their floats are kept down to small quantities of 200 gallons. I think the Minister, when increasing the basic ration, might have increased the permissible float in the garages in this country, and thus enable them to stock larger supplies of petrol to deal with the anticipated increased demand.

More important even than the financial cost—and the financial cost can be converted into dollar cost, because the time and effort and labour wasted administering the ration system could be put to productive purposes and then help to earn dollars, or which is just as important, to save them—is the important moral issue regarding petrol rationing, which is one reason why we are seeking its early abolition. For example, there is the banking of coupons, which is still considered to be wrong in the eyes of the Minister of Fuel and Power. Only last week I had one of his snoopers in my constituency watching, on the other side of the road, to see when motorists drew up before a particular garage. He would then rush up, after the transaction had been completed, demanding to see the coupons which the motorist had surrendered. In the end, of course, he got a victim. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Then there is another—[Interruption.]—there is another apparatus of snooping—that to detect motorists who may be so wicked as to have red petrol in their tanks. The cost of the red dye alone amount to £75,000 a year.

Mr. L. Hale

On a point of Order. Is there no limit to the sort of vituperation which can come across the Chamber from the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton)? There has been no dissension across the Floor of the House at all. May I ask whether the word "Nazi" is a kindly word?

Mr. Speaker

I could not hear anything that happened.

Mr. Erroll


Mr. Hale

I am raising a point of Order. Is it in Order for the noble Lord the Member for Horsham to shout "You Nazis" across the Chamber? [Laughter.] I am sorry to observe that that particular form of vituperation appears to be regarded as a pleasantry by hon. Members opposite. Further, is it in Order for the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) to shout "Sit down" when I am raising a substantial point of Order?

Mr. Speaker

I really cannot deal with these points when I do not hear them. All sorts of things can be said which can be thoroughly nasty but which sometimes may be said in a humorous manner. If I do not hear them, it is very difficult for me to judge whether they are in Order. I do not want to add a lot of words to the part of Erskine May which says that certain words are out of Order, because sometimes they could be in Order and sometimes out of Order. All I can say is that I deprecate words being thrown across the Floor of the House, particularly when I cannot hear what happens.

Mr. Erroll

I hope the Minister will consider the defects of the rationing system as at present applied. While rationing remains, let us see that it is applied equally strictly to all forms of oil consumption.

But surely it would be better for us to look at the various ways of increasing supplies, and in the few minutes which remain, I should like particularly to stress the importance of full consultation with the British companies. Are consultations taking place continually and on a friendly footing about their views and their hopes of the developing situation? Are we really watching our deliveries of sterling oil to non-sterling countries? I know it is necessary, because of the importance of the world position which we hold, to supply oil to many countries in the world and I understand that last year 50 million tons of sterling oil were supplied to non-sterling countries and that of that total about 25 million tons went to soft currency countries.

While I agree that it is necessary to send oil to those countries, does not the Minister think it might be possible to do a little pruning? If the Minister were to reduce those supplies by as little as 4 per cent. it would be possible to close the million-ton petrol gap which we discussed earlier. There are certain non-dollar and non-sterling supplies which become available from time to time. There was that remarkable offer to the Australians by Italy when Australia, a member of the sterling area, could have accepted 100,000 tons of non-dollar petrol. Why was that offer turned down? Why did not we make a greater effort to secure that important contribution towards closing the petrol gap?

There is the great refinery at Haifa which, month after month, continues to get into a deeper state of neglect. Could not we have a really vigorous policy pursued to re-open this refinery, the petrol output of which could more than supply the whole basic ration required for British motor cars? By far the most important development of all is the current talks proceeding with the United States of America, and we on this side of the House are grateful to the Minister for revealing something of what is taking place.

I should like to repeat what my right hon. Friend had said, that we wish him well in these negotiations. The Americans and the British have a great common interest in securing increased availability of oil supplies throughout the world. It is, I think, the difficulties of the dollar position which make it impossible for larger supplies to flow into every storage tank and petrol pump in the world. In addition to what has been already put forward, may I suggest that the Minister puts it to the Americans that if they were able to apply a policy of price reduction that would enable us to buy more petrol, and that by price maintenance and restricted output they are defeating the object which they themselves desire, of seeing supplies of oil moving more freely throughout the world.

I hope that we have heard the last of the politics about refinery location. There were perfectly good reasons why before the war refineries should be built abroad, and very good reasons now why they should be built at home. If we before the war had seen that refineries were built in this country, the Conservative Party would now be attacked for having neglected the Colonial Empire—Burma, for example. Having developed those territories, we are now told that it was wrong for us to have done so. I resent this playing of party politics. Refinery

location is a highly technical business, just as is the location of steel plants. I maintain that the rationing apparatus is extravagant and largely unnecessary in today's conditions, particularly as the restrictions apply to only one-tenth of the consumption in this country. Moreover, additional non-dollar supplies could be made available, more than sufficient to supply our reasonable needs, had the Government only the will and determination to do so.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

When I saw this Motion on the Order Paper, I felt that there was nothing new to be said on this matter, but having listened to the mover and seconder of the Motion, I feel that while we differ in opinion, nevertheless, they presented their point of view in a sensible way. I see that in view of the time I must end my speech.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 141; Noes, 187.

Division No. 15.] AYES [4.0 p.m.
Aitken, W. T Duthie, W. S. Longden, G. J. M (Herts S. W.)
Alport, C. J. [...]. Erroll, F. J. Low, A. R. W.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Fisher, Nigel Lucas, Ma[...] Sir J. (Portsmouth S.)
Baldock, J. M. Fort, R. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H
Baldwin, A. E Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. McAdden, S. J
Baxter, A. B. Garner-Evans, E. H (Denbigh) Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Gates, Maj. E. E. Maclay, Hon. J. S.
Bell, R. M. Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans) MacLeod, I. (Enfield, W.)
Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston) Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.) Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)
Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport) Harris, R. R. (Heston) Manningham-Buller, R E
Bishop, F. P. Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Black, C. W Harvey, I. (Harrow, E.) Marshall, D. (Bodmin)
Bower, N Hay, John Maudling, R.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Heath, Colonel E. G. R. Mellor, Sir J.
Braine, B. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Brooke, H. (Hampstead) Higgs, J. M. C. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nugent, G. R. H.
Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E Hill, Dr. C. (Luton) Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Burden, Squadron-Leader F A Hopkinson, H. Peake, Rt. Hon. O
Butcher, H. W. Hornsby-Smith, Miss P. Prescott, Stanley
Carr, L. R. (Mitcham) Howard, G. R. (St. Ives) Price, H. A (Lewisham, W)
Carson, Hon. E Hudson, Sir A. U. M. (Lewisham. N.) Raikes, H V
Channon, H. Hulbert, Wing-Cdr N J Redmayne, M
Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead) Hurd, A. R. Remnant, Hon P.
Colegate, A. Hutchinson, G. (Ilford, N.) Renton, D. L. M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hylton-Foster, H. B. Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)
Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.) Jeffreys, General Sir G. Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne) Jones, A (Hall Green) Robson-Brown, W.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon H F C. Kaberry, D. Rodgers, J. (Sevenoaks)
Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R. Keeling, E. H Roper, Sir H
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerr, H. W (Cambridge) Ross, Sir R D (Londonderry)
Crouch, R. F. Lancaster, Col. C. G Russell, R. S.
Crowder, F. P (Ruislip, N'thwood) Langford-Holt, J. Ryder, Capt. R. E. D
Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (F'chley) Law, Rt. Hon. R. K Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Davies, Nigel (Epping) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)
De la Bère, R. Lennox-Boyd, A. T Spearman, A. C. M.
Deedes, W. F. Lindsay, Martin Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Digby, S. Wingfield Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton) Stevens, G. P.
Drayson, G. B. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Drews, C. Lockwood. Lt -Col. J. C. Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Studholme, H. G Vosper, D. F. Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Sutclifle, H. Wakefield, Sir W W (St Marylebone.) White, J. Baker (Canterbury)
Teeling, William Walker-Smith, D. C Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E.)
Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.) Ward, Hon G R. (Worcester) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Tilney, John Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth) Wood, Hon. R.
Touche, G. C. Watkinson, H
Turton, R. H. Watt, Sir G. S Harvie TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Vaughan-Morgan, [...] Webbe, Sir H (London) Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Leather.
Acland, Sir Richard Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P C Morrison, Rt Hon H. (Lewisham, S.)
Adams, Richard Granville, E. (Eye) Moyle, A.
Albu, A. H. Greenwood, A W J. (Rossendale) Nally, W.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Greenwood, Rt. Hon A (Wakefield) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Grey, C. F. Oldfield, W. H
Attlee, Rt. Hon C. [...] Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Oliver, G. H
Ayles, W. H. Griffiths, Rt Hon J (Llanelly) Orbach, M
Bacon, Miss A Grimond, J. Paget, R. T
Balfour, A. Gunter, R. J. Pargiter, G A
Barnes, Rt. Hon A. J Haire John E. (Wycombe) Parker, J
Bartley, P Hale, J. (Rochdale) Paton, J.
Benson, G. Hall, J (Gateshead, W.) Peart, T. F
Beswick, F. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Popplewell, E
Bevan, Rt. Hon A (Ebbw Vale) Hamilton, W W Proctor, W. T
Bing, G. H. C. Hannan, W. Reid. T. (Swindon)
Blackburn, A. R Hargreaves, A Rhodes, H
Blenkinsop, A. Hastings, Dr. Somervitle Robens, A
Blyton, W. R. Hayman, F. H. Robinson, Kenneth (St Pancras, N.)
Bottomley, A. G. Henderson, Rt. Hon. A (Rowley R.) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Bowden, H W. Herbison, Miss M. Royle, C.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Hewitson, Capt. M Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H
Brockway, A. Fenner Holman, P Shinwell, Rt Hon E
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D Houghton, Douglas Silverman, J (Erdington)
Brown, George (Belper) Hudson, J H. (Ealing, N.) Silverman, S S (Nelson)
Burke, W. A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Simmons, C J.
Burton, Miss E. Hynd, H (Accrington) Slater, J.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Callaghan, James Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Snow, J. W
Castle, Mrs. B. A Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Sorensen, R W.
Champion, A. J Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir F
Chetwynd, G. R. Janner, B. Sparks, J. A.
Clunie, J. Jay, D. P. T. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Cooks, F. S Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S.) Strauss, Rt. Hon G R. (Vauxhall)
Collick, P. Jenkins, R. H Stross, Dr. B
Cooper, J. (Deptford) Johnson, J. (Rugby) Taylor, R J (Morpeth)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Thomas, D E (Aberdare)
Cove, W. G. Jones Jack (Rotherham) Thomas T George (Cardiff)
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S Kenyon, C. Thomas, I O (Wrekin)
Crosland, C. A. R. King, H. M Thurtle, Ernest
Crossman, R. H. S. Lee, F. (Newton) Tomlinson, Rt Hon. G
Daines, P. Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.) Tomney, F.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Lindgren, G. S. Turner-Samuels, M
Darling, G. (Hillsboro') Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Vernon, Maj W [...].
Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.) Longden, F. (Small Heath) Viant, S. P.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McAllister, G. Wallace, H W.
Deer, G. MacColl, J. E Webb, Rt Hon M. (Bradford, C.)
Delargy, H. J Macdonald, A. J F (Roxburgh) Wells, P L (Faversham)
Diamond, J. Mack, J. D. Wells, W. T (Walsall)
Dodds, N. N. McKay, J. (Wallsend) White, Mrs E. (E. Flint)
Driberg, T. E. N. Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Ede, Rt. Hon J C McNeil, Rt. Hon. H. Wilcock, Group-Capt, C. A. B.
Edelman, M. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Wilkins, W. A.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Marquand, Rt Hon H A. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Ewart, R. Mellish, R. J Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)
Field, Capt. W. J. Messer, F. Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)
Foot, M. M. Mikardo, Ian Woods, Rev. G. S.
Freeman, J. (Watford) Mitchison, G. R Wyatt, W. L.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H T. N Moeran. E. W Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Moody, A. S TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
George, Lady M. Lloyd Morgan, Dr. H B Mr. Leslie Hale and
Gibson, C. W. Morley. R Mr. Ronald Williams.
Gooch, E G

Question proposed, "That the proposed words be there added."

Several Hon. Members


It being after Four o'Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.