HC Deb 22 June 1954 vol 529 cc216-7
21. Mr. Stokes

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will now refer the operating methods of the oil industry to the Monopolies Commission in view of the fact that, but for the oil ring, fuel oil produced by British-controlled companies could be sold in this country at£2 a ton cheaper than it is today, which would mean a saving of about 25 per cent. on the cost of oil burnt under boilers.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I would refer the right hon. Member to the answer given on 4th May to similar Questions on this subject.

Mr. Stokes

I know, but the answer was completely unsatisfactory. May I now ask if the hon. and learned Gentleman has really examined this matter and whether he is aware that oil in the tanker in the Persian Gulf costs only£1 a ton to get there, whereas in Central America, Mexico, it costs£3 10s., and the price is kept up merely for the purpose of getting a uniform price for oil instead of giving this country the advantage of cheap oil, which we could have if his Department behaved otherwise?

Mr. Strauss

The Question we had to consider was whether to refer the matter to the Monopolies Commission to which reference was made in the answer on 4th May. On the further question which the right hon. Member has asked, he knows that this is a very complex matter. Many different products are produced from crude oil and, in making the statement about the price of one particular product, I was not sure what he was assuming to be the price of the others.

Mr. Stokes

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of what is the ruling price for so-called fuel oil in this country, namely, about£9 Its, a ton, and that if we had the advantage of cheaper production, instead of keeping up the price at the artificial level, the price of oil burned under boilers would go down 20 per cent. to 25 per cent.?

Hon. Members


Mr. Strauss

The answer given by my right hon. Friend to the Question to which I referred in my original answer today was not unsympathetic, but this is not the only matter for possible reference to the Monopolies Commission. In answer to the last supplementary question, I do not think I have anything to add to my previous answer.

Mr. Beswick

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that if the President does decide to refer this matter to the Monopolies Commission the inquiry will be quite worthless if, as the President indicated to me, the inquiry is limited to the activities of these companies in this country; it will be absolutely essential to widen the inquiry to cover the extraction of oil overseas?

Mr. Strauss

That is going beyond the Question on the Paper, but, if the matter were referred to the Monopolies Commission, both we and they would be bound by the terms of the statute.