HC Deb 29 April 1974 vol 872 cc762-4
27. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will take steps to ensure that private garages receive adequate supplies of petrol.

Mr. Strang

The current restrictions on deliveries of petrol are designed to ensure an equitable distribution between garages and other wholesale purchasers. Any garage not satisfied with its allocation can appeal for supplementary quantities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is considering the future of the allocation scheme in the light of the latest supply assessments.

Mr. Costain

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that my constituents are not satisfied with their allocation, which takes little account of the seasonal nature of the garage business? Garages situated in areas in which there are holiday camps are badly dealt with. Will the hon. Gentleman please reconsider this matter?

Mr. Strang

If any constituent of the hon. Member is dissatisfied, he can apply for a supplementary allowance through the supplying company to the local regional office of the Department of Industry. I shall be happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to write to me about any particular case. It is worth bearing in mind that because the allocation system relates to the previous year there is a built-in allowance for increased demand in certain areas during the tourist season. When considering appeals, the officers take into account increased regional variations.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is my hon. Friend aware that the allocation appears to be extremely arbitrary and generally unsatisfactory? In my constituency of Crewe various small garage owners who serve factory workers are not receiving even one quarter of the amount of petrol they want. Although my hon. Friend says that they may apply for supplementary allowances, is he aware that applying is not at all the same as receiving, and that an inquiry is urgently needed into the way in which large companies are administering the allocation?

Mr. Strang

I sympathise with what my hon. Friend says, but she will recognise that in any system of rationing or allocation there are bound to be some people who are relatively harder hit than others. The Government are doing their best to minimise this, and I assure my hon. Friend that a significant proportion of the appeals are successful.

Mr. Wigley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in several holiday areas of Wales the problem reached acute proportions during and after the Easter holiday period, when some garages ran dry of petrol and were closed for the sale of petrol for several days? Does not this reflect a slackness in the consideration of appeals? There is considerable feeling in parts of Wales that the whole procedure needs drastic reappraisal as so many people this year are taking their holidays at home rather than abroad.

Mr. Strang

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I emphasise that the Government are looking urgently at the allocation system.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will my hon. Friend take into account that this is precisely the point at which oil companies are bound to discriminate in favour of their own retail outlets? Is he satisfied that the independents will not be squeezed out completely?

Mr. Strang

The Government have no evidence of any such discrimination. If my hon. Friend has such evidence I shall be happy if he will forward it to me.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has heard from both sides of the House significant objections to the present allocation scheme? It was introduced at a time of emergency and was, therefore, inevitably rough and ready. I do not know why hon. Gentlemen are laughing. It was introduced in a serious emergency following the Arab cut-backs at the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war. If the Secretary of State for Energy feels, as he may well feel in the light of the uncertainty about the future, that he wishes to keep an allocation scheme of some sort, will he undertake to have a thorough review to see whether he can devise a more sophisticated scheme which is fairer between different users of petrol?

Mr. Strang

I can give that undertaking. All hon. Members will hope, as we do, that we shall be able to dispense completely with the allocation system in due course.