HC Deb 05 April 1971 vol 815 cc14-5
15. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will refer to the Cabinet Inter-Disciplinary Unit any further intentions by oil companies to increase petrol prices.

Mr. John Davies

No, Sir.

Mrs. Short

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Is he aware that increases in petrol prices are often made an excuse for increases in the prices of all kinds of goods sold in the shops and, of course, for fare increases? He cannot blame those on wages increases. If the Cabinet inter-disciplinary unit is to be more than the Prime Minister's gimmick, will the right hon. Gentleman change his mind about this and refer this matter to that body to see what action it can take?

Mr. Davies

I would just point out that I believe that the hon. Lady is referring to the Central Policy Review Unit. Of course I realise that petrol costs find their way into a very wide variety of costs throughout the whole range of manufacture. It is, of course, interesting to note that, looking over the past period and discounting only that element of petrol price increases to which the last Government assented as being the consequence of Suez, the effective return to the companies is less now than it was in 1955.

Mr. Lane

To remind hon. Members opposite and the country, would my right hon. Friend confirm that, even taking into account recent increases, the price of petrol and other oil products has risen much less during the last few years than the price of coal, gas and electricity?

Mr. Davies

So far as I can make out, of all the elements of energy in the economy it has risen the least. Indeed, until very recently it was showing a net decrease in terms of return.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his last claim about the comparatively slow increases in oil prices would be laughed out of court by most of the people who have to buy the oil? Is it satisfactory that he should have the power to intervene to affect steel or coal prices but no power to interfere with oil prices, which certainly affect the whole range of competitive power to British industry?

Mr. Davies

I shall, of course, be answering a Question, as I said, on the subject of steel later today. On the other hand, I am bound to reiterate that the experience with the movement of oil prices has not at all been comparable with that on other energy fuels. The only element which differs, of course, is the tax raised. If one deals with this in terms of the return to companies, it has been, until very recently a decrease, not an increase.

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