HC Deb 17 December 1956 vol 562 cc917-21
10. Mr. Stokes

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the burden upon industry and the public caused by the recent increases in the wholesale and retail price of petrol, he will impose price control.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave on 10th December last to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton).

Mr. Stokes

That is the sort of unsatisfactory reply that I expected. As the cost of a gallon of petrol to the oil companies used to be 1s. 1d. and is now only 1s.1¾d. after bringing the petrol round the Cape, and as the Minister himself is the main plunderer, what steps does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take to protect the public from being exploited by erratic prices?

Mr. Jones

First, I would question the figures mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. For the rest, to safeguard the consumers against any erratic movement in price, I came to an arrangement with the oil companies by which they would not raise their prices without prior consultation with me. Such consultation took place, and I was satisfied that, to get the requisite amount of petrol into the country, increased costs had to be incurred, and that, unless those costs were faced, the alternative was to have a smaller supply than we needed.

20. Mr. Stokes

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what factors he took into account when approving the emergency surcharges on the wholesale and retail price of petrol and oil; and if he will give particulars showing in detail how the increases were arrived at.

21 and 29. Mr. Lewis

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) why, in view of the fact that the additional costs in bringing oil to this country as a result of the closing of the Suez Canal is only estimated to be 2¾d. per gallon, he has approved the oil companies' increase of their petrol charges by 5d. per gallon;

(2) whether, before agreeing to the petrol companies' demand for a further increase of 5d. a gallon on the retail price of petrol, he took into account the profits, dividends and share bonuses that have been made by these companies during the past few months.

30 and 31. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) how much of the 5d. emergency surcharge covers the extra costs, respectively, of bringing oil round the Cape and of obtaining United States oil;

(2) what assurances he has received from the oil companies that the 5d. emergency surcharge will cease when the temporary additional customs duty of 1s. is removed.

36. Mr. Stokes

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is the estimated extra cost per gallon of oil of re-routing tankers round the Cape of Good Hope instead of through the Suez Canal.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

The extra costs of supplying oil products to the United Kingdom, being mainly the higher costs of ocean transit, amount to about 2¾d. per gallon. The extra costs of wholesale distribution in this country due to the disturbance of normal flow of supplies amount to about ¼d. per gallon on motor spirit and 4d. per gallon on other products, making total wholesale surcharges of 3½d. and 3d. per gallon, respectively. On retail sales of petrol and derv fuel, the reduced throughput of the garages warranted an additional surcharge of 1½d. per gallon. These emergency surcharges are directly related to extra costs arising out of the present oil supply situation and my approval of them will lapse when those costs are no longer incurred.

Mr. Stokes

The Minister has muddled it by grouping all the Questions together. Is he aware that the more reputable oil companies agree that the extra cost of bringing a ton of oil round the Cape is only 25s. and that the increased cost on a gallon of petrol is only ¾d.? In view of the fact that all the Persian Gulf oil companies make £3 10s. a ton clear profit on Persian oil, why is it necessary to pass on any of these charges to the public?

Mr. Jones

The right hon. Gentleman would be on perfectly valid ground in questioning me on matters of opinion, but I question whether he can express facts quite as dogmatically as he is expressing them. The extra cost of ocean transit round the Cape, as I have said to the House on more than one occasion, is £2 10s. a ton, which is 2¾d. a gallon.

Mr. Stokes

Is the Minister aware that a most reputable oil company admitted to me that the extra cost round the Cape is 25 per cent.? The cost used to be 102s. a ton and 25 per cent. of that represents one and one-sixth pence per gallon of crude oil—because there are 263 gallons to every ton of Persian Gulf oil.

Mr. Jones

I can only assert most categorically that those are not the figures available to me. As a matter of fact, the surcharges do not amount to the full extent of the applications made to me by the oil companies.

Mr. Lewis

The Minister has answered two of my Questions together; at least, to be correct, he has not attempted to answer Question No. 29. May I therefore ask him, firstly on Question No. 21, whether the figures do not prove that he is giving sanction to the oil companies to make bigger profits, since they have put 1s. a gallon on oil as well as on petrol? Will he give an assurance that he will follow the excellent example of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and make sure by legislation that these increases will be removed one month after rationing has ceased? Will he answer Question No. 29, which he has completely evaded? What has he done about the profits of these companies?

Mr. Jones

With regard to the first part of the hon. Member's omnibus Question, if I may describe it as such, there have to be taken into account not only the extra freightage costs, but also the extra costs of wholesale distribution and the extra costs of retail distribution. As for the duration of the surcharge, I think I made it abundantly clear that the surcharge is directly related to the emergency.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

As there is very grave doubt in the minds of many people about the accuracy of these figures submitted by the oil companies, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to allow some independent outside firm of accountants to check the figures and to make sure that the oil companies are not trying to pull a fast one at the expense of the public?

Mr. Jones

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that I have myself made the most scrupulous checking.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the Minister aware that not only do the oil companies use their own tankers, but have to hire more than 50 per cent. of the tankers they use at very expensive rates from outside ship owners? In view of that, is he also aware that the figures given by the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) are absolute nonsense and that the additional cost of bringing petrol round the Cape, as I said in September, will be at least 3d. a gallon?

Mr. Jones

I was already aware that the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman were very far from being accurate.

Mr. Stokes

Arising out of that reply, is the Minister—

Mr. Nabarro

On a point of order. Will you guide the House, Mr. Speaker? The Minister has no statutory authority at all for controlling petrol prices. In those circumstances, how can any of these supplementary questions be in order?

Mr. Speaker

The Minister has not disclaimed responsibility in this matter, and he stated that he had had consultations with the oil companies.

Mr. Stokes

Is the Minister aware that my information came from Shell Transport, who ought to know what it is doing? Will he tell the House to what extent the oil companies own the tanker companies? There is not really much excuse for an increase at all.

Mr. Jones

I have already said—if it will help to convince the right hon. Gentleman—that the full applications made by oil companies were certainly not granted.