HC Deb 09 July 1979 vol 970 cc11-4
7. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the current situation relating to petrol supplies.

Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the current oil supply and stock situation.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Hamish Gray)

There has been little change in the oil supply situation since my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on 11 June. Petrol supplies have eased slightly, but there remains a need for all consumers to make every possible economy in their use of oil products.

Mr. Knox

Is my hon. Friend aware that customers of those filling stations whose contracts with oil companies have expired and have not been renewed are experiencing difficulties, particularly in the less densely populated areas? Can he suggest a solution?

Mr. Gray

The Department is keeping in close touch with the oil companies and distributors. If my hon. Friend has knowledge of an individual case, I shall investigate it.

Mr. Rost

Can my hon. Friend confirm that if we are to avoid real long-term oil shortages of American proportions the consumer will have to accept the world price for petrol and the justification for Governments to impose taxation, provided that that taxation is used to trigger off conservation and investment in providing alternative sources of energy which will make us less dependent upon oil in the long term?

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend is correct. Conservation must be the first priority. In spite of the recent increases in the price of petrol, in real terms the price is still lower by several pence than it was in 1974.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Minister aware that in three weeks' time millions of industrial workers and their families will be taking their holidays in Scotland, Wales and the West Country? What arrangements is he making to discuss with the oil companies and the distributors a reallocation of supply to take account of that, so that holidays are not spoiled throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Gray

The allocation system operated by the oil companies is based upon the amount of petrol sold in the corresponding month last year. Therefore, the tourist areas will, to some extent, reflect the holiday traffic. The greatest contribution which hon. Members and the media can make is to avoid creating a panic where no real shortage exists.

Mr. McQuarrie

Is the Minister aware that, due to the complex system operated throughout Britain last year and because supplies are based on 1978 figures, there is a greater outflow in the towns and cities because of cut prices, to the detriment of rural areas? That applies in particular to rural areas in Scotland which rely upon the tourist industry.

Will the Minister make representations to the oil companies to the effect that they should allocate further supplies to the rural areas and take no account of increased sales resulting from cut prices?

Mr. Gray

The Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with the oil companies and representatives of the distributive industry. The suggestions which my hon. Friend makes have been drawn to their attention. I am confident that during the tourist season difficulties will not be experienced to any great extent.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister ensure that the Government place advertisements in the national press, and in the popular media in particular, giving assurances to holiday makers? Is he aware that in West Yorkshire holiday bookings are down by about 40 per cent? I believe that that is true everywhere else. Is the Minister aware that many people are losing a lot of brass in mine and other constituencies? Is it not time that people were assured that they can get petrol when they go on holiday this summer?

Mr. Gray

I am sympthetic to what the hon. Member says. This situation can best be handled by the tourist authorities. Some authorities are already making this their business and advertising that there is plenty of petrol in their area. That is to be commended.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is it Government policy to encourage ordinary motorists, where possible, to convert in their purchasing from petrol consuming to diesel consuming vehicles? Will the Minister make a statement about the availability of derv to agriculture in rural areas?

Mr. Gray

The situation is that we encourage them by means of a conservation policy. We must look at the most suitable method. My right hon. Friend will be making known his views on conservation by means of a statement at the appropriate time. On the second point raised by my hon. Friend, this is something to which we will certainly give Further consideration.

Mr. Eadie

Is the Minister aware that his statement at the weekend—made, as I understand it, in the cosy comfort of a Conservative school—that free market pricing is the cure for oil and petrol shortages is nonsense? No reputable fuel economist would agree with him. Is it not time that this Government started to govern and put a stop to the oil companies playing ring-a-ring o' roses with them?

Mr. Gray

There is no doubt that in the months and years ahead we shall look to the oil companies to make positive investment in the North Sea with some of the money to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We shall do this by encouraging them with proper policies, to be announced shortly, which will try to retrieve the situation we inherited, which was that there was a massive lack of investment in the North Sea over the past two to three years.