HC Deb 10 December 1958 vol 597 cc407-9

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

At the outset, I must say that I know nothing whatever of the details of the local problem to which the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) has drawn attention tonight, but I have listened carefully to the hon. Member and to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden). Nor am I very greatly concerned about the Minister's decision to override the local authority's refusal to give planning permission. That must happen from time to time. I do not think that a local authority necessarily always holds the balance between all the contending factors in these cases and arrives at the right decision.

I used to be a member of a planning committee, and I think that I am right in saying that a planning committee is precluded from considering certain very relevant factors which the Minister would bear in mind. Therefore, like the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, I am not greatly concerned about the fact that the Minister over-rode the local authority. What I am concerned about is the squeezing out of the small garage and petrol station proprietors by the bigger petrol firms. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to this towards the end of his speech but, as far as I know, it has not been raised in the House for a considerable time. It is a very real issue.

I would be the first to admit that the service stations of Esso and of the other big petrol firms which are springing up like mushrooms in this country and throughout Europe give excellent service. I often travel right across Europe with a caravan and I know what wonderful service Esso and all the other petrol stations give in the way of washing facilities and the rest. But I do not see why I or any other motorist should be forced to buy a certain brand of petrol. That is just about what it is coming to at present.

I do not see why the small man in the petrol business should be forced out by the giant petrol firms. It is happening all over this country, and in France and other countries. I could quote many cases, given time for a little research. There are many small garage proprietors who are being forced to close their garages because planning permission has been given to build a large petrol station nearby. We have been told that one of the merits of capitalism is that it encourages competition, that it delivers the goods better, in greater variety, and more cheaply than any other system; but it seems to me that competition is being eliminated over the whole field not only of distribution but of production as well, and the Tory Government are apparently assisting in the process. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us of 78 cases in which planning permission has been given by his right hon. Friend. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but surely when planning permission is given it is always known whether the petrol station will belong to a big firm.

Mr. Bevins

I interrupt the hon. Gentleman to say that very often that is just what is not known, because often large petrol companies do not make planning applications in their own name. They make them through agents.

Mr. Short

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but giving planning permission involves examining plans, and I cannot envisage plans for an Esso station being put before anybody without its being known that it is an Esso station. The name Esso is plastered all over these stations. I accept that the fact that the petrol station belongs to a large distributor is not a factor that is taken into account. Nevertheless, this process goes on all the time.

If this process continues in distribution and production, and the country's economy eventually gravitates into a few monopolies, it will make the eventual establishment of a Socialist economy very much easier. Karl Marx pointed that out long ago. But while we have to live under a capitalist system, we might as well enjoy any merits that it is supposed to have. The odd situation today is that a Tory Government, while never at any time losing the opportunity to proclaim the merits of competition, proceed by their own administrative action to abolish it. However, as I have said, as long as we have to live under the system we may as well enjoy its merits.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to look very carefully in future at any appeals that come before him concerning a large petrol station. It is very regrettable that throughout this country and abroad the small petrol distributor is being squeezed out by these giant firms.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Usborne

On a point of order. I wish to speak about a different subject. If that is in order I should like to do so.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member wants to raise another subject, I must only repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey). If an hon. Member catches my eye, and the hon. Member has caught my eye, he is entitled to address the House on the Motion for the Adjournment on any proper subject falling within the rules of order. On the other hand, there is a convention that the House should be put in possession of both sides of any case. Therefore, past Speakers have deprecated, as I now deprecate, the raising of subjects on which there is nobody to reply.

Mr. Ridsdale

On a point of order. Could I be allowed to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government a question on something which he said in reply to me?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Member can ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question outside the Chamber. We seem to he with the hon. Member f)r Yardley (Mr. Usborne) now, and we are on another topic.