HC Deb 14 May 1957 vol 570 cc223-5
The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on petrol rationing.

Petrol stocks in this country are at a satisfactory level, and now that interim arrangements have been made for the resumption of traffic through the Suez Canal the Government have decided that petrol rationing can be brought to an end. My noble Friend the Minister of Power has today made an Order giving effect to this decision from tomorrow.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The whole House will welcome this announcement, which is hardly surprising, but will the Minister make a statement about the emergency surcharge which is still imposed upon petrol? Is it not a fact that this was imposed to meet increased distribution costs, increased freight rates due to tankers having to come round the Cape, and the smaller through-put? Is there any justification for continuing this? Even if there is a time lag, are not the profits of the oil companies today so great that they could carry this extra burden?

Mr. Maudling

Yes, Sir. We are discussing with oil companies the removal of the surcharge.

Mr. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in his discussions with the oil companies, that they are still taking from private motorists 6d. a gallon more than they were in the pre-Suez period? As no more than 2d. a gallon is on account of the extra cost for going round the Cape, will my right hon. Friend be quite sure— if he is to continue controlling petrol prices— that the motorist gets a fair deal? Further, will he consider the British Road Services surcharge of 7½ per cent. which was put on today, when it was known that petrol rationing was to end? Surely, that is not valid in the circumstances.

Mr. Maudling

There has been a considerable rise in Gulf prices, but my hon. Friend should not suppose that the Government intend permanently to control petrol prices.

Mr. Shinwell

Did the right hon. Gentleman listen to his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power yesterday when, in reply to a question, he categorically stated that it was the intention of the Government to proceed with the printing of petrol coupons? Is that still the intention? What expense has been incurred in the printing of new ration books? And, when they are printed, what do the Government propose to do with them?

Mr. Maudling

Of course we shall proceed with their printing. It was because the Labour Government, at the end of petrol rationing in 1950, were wise enough to proceed with the printing of ration books that we had them in stock to meet this emergency.

Mr. Paget

Since the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government are not going permanently to control prices, are we really to have no protection whatever against these enormous monopolies?

Mr. Maudling

It is not right to say that they are enormous monopolies.

Mr. Chetwynd

As well as dealing with this surcharge, can the Minister say what steps are being taken to remove the odd halfpennies and pennies put on a whole range of goods as a result of petrol rationing? Are we to understand that the Government are keeping the ration books for fear that the noble Lord is taking over the Government?

Mr. Maudling

The surcharge covers the whole range of petroleum products.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. Gentleman make clear to the House whether or not he is going on printing the books? I do not quite get it. What is the idea of going on printing the books? Does he expect another crisis? We are all very glad to hear the news today, but we cannot understand why this announcement was not made some time ago. What is the good of wasting public money on printing petrol ration books unless the right hon. Gentleman expects more trouble? If he does, would he be good enough to tell us what it will be?

Mr. Maudling

It is sometimes wise to anticipate trouble. Governments are often blamed for not doing so. The right hon. Gentleman's own party was wise enough to print an additional issue of ration books before cancelling petrol rationing. We are doing the same thing.

Mr. Grimond

Do we understand that the Government are now following the Socialist Party in this, as in everything else? If the confusion spreads in the Conservative Party, are we to have another Suez crisis in the next year or two?

Mr. Maudling

We are merely following the party opposite in the wise precaution that it once took.

Mr. G. Wilson

Can my right hon. Friend say how much time was saved in introducing petrol rationing by reason of the fact that there was a stock of books in hand?

Mr. Maudling

I cannot say exactly, but there certainly was a considerable saving.

Mr. Lipton

If, as announced, the Government are going on with the printing of petrol coupons, what do they want us to do with the petrol coupons we now hold? Can we keep them?

Mr. Maudling

There are very interesting possibilities. The printing of a new issue will cover future emergencies.