HC Deb 20 May 1957 vol 570 cc832-4
6. Mr. Lipton

asked the Paymaster-General what progress he has made in his discussions with the oil companies about removing their surcharge on petrol.

8. Mr. Ernest Davies

asked the Paymaster-General what has been the result of his consultation with the oil companies in regard to the emergency surcharge.

Mr. Maudling

The hon. Members will have seen from the announcements of the oil companies that, following consultations with my noble Friend, they have taken off the remainder of the emergency surcharge. My noble Friend has now decided that it is no longer necessary to ask them to consult him before making changes in prices.

Mr. Lipton

Is not the Paymaster-General aware that petrol is still 2—½d. a gallon more than pre-Suez, which means higher fares and higher prices? Why did the previous Minister of Fuel and Power tell the House on 10th December last: I have every reason to believe that when the emergency is over the emergency surcharge will disappear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1956; Vol. 562, c. 16.] Was the Minister tricked by the oil companies, and is that why he misled the House and the public?

Mr. Maudling

I think the hon. Gentleman has failed to distinguish between the cost of carrying oil and the cost of buying it from the Gulf. The price has risen by 2½d. a gallon, but this country has no control over Gulf prices, which must continue to be reflected in the price to the consumer.

Mr. Nabarro

In view of the great variations in the statements made from time to time as to the amount by which petrol is now higher in price than it was at the onset of the Suez crisis, namely, last July, can my right hon. Friend say whether the 2½d. referred to in the last supplementary is correct or not?

Mr. Maudling

My impression is that the higher elements in the price of petrol since before Suez are the increase in the basic price at the Gulf of about l½d. a gallon and the increased cost of 1d. a gallon in the retailers' margin, agreed between the oil companies and the retailers, which are not a responsibility of the Government.

Mr. Lewis

While appreciating that the price may or may not have gone up—because we hear different stories about that—may I ask whether it is not a fact that these companies are turning over millions of pounds of profits? Surely it would be far better if the Minister were to advise them to cut prices, if need be out of their profits, and so help to reduce the cost of living? Why should they keep on making these millions of pounds of profits?

Mr. Maudling

To pay for the development of their industry.

Mr. Robens

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two questions? Did I understand him to say that in future the oil companies will not consult the Ministry when they wish to change prices? If so, can we look forward now to some competition amongst the oil companies and a difference in oil and petrol prices to the consumers? Secondly, will he say by how much now petrol has increased since the pre-Suez situation?

Mr. Maudling

I thought I said earlier that the higher price of petrol of about 2½d. a gallon since the pre-Suez crisis was the effect of the increased price the companies have to pay to producers, plus the retailers' margin. As to the right hon. Gentleman's other question, I think that if he will look into the oil business a little more closely he will find that it is in fact a very competitive industry.