HL Deb 05 November 1947 vol 152 cc502-45

4.42 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to call attention to the abolition of the basic petrol ration; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. At the outset I would like to make the claim, with which I believe noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree, that the abolition of the basic petrol ration is the greatest single hardship that has been inflicted upon a warweary people by the present Government. The second general contention I would put forward is that the total elimination of the private motorist is regarded by the great body of people in the country as a pretty desperate sort of reward as part of the fruits of victory. To the best of my knowledge, petrol is the only commodity in general use which has been singled out for total abolition. We have had great restrictions on smoking, drink has become very expensive, and other things are becoming expensive. But petrol has been selected as the only commodity for total abolition.

I think your Lordships will agree that the recent debate in another place, with a very considerable drop in the Government majority, and perhaps the municipal election results, are, to some extent, indicative of the general resentment of the community at the abolition of the basic petrol ration. I wart to try to examine this position fairly, logically, and in a reasonable frame of mind, and during the deployment of my arguments I would ask His Majesty's Government certain questions. I think the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is to reply to this debate.


I was wondering if it would be convenient to the House if I spoke rather earlier in the debate, because I have a lot of figures to give to the House. I think if I speak third, after the noble Earl, Lord Manvers, it will assist noble Lords who speak later.


I am sure we are all grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. He just now called himself a "Jack of all trades," but I think we who have listened to him replying to many debates think that he is also the master of many.

The first question which occurs to the mind of anyone who examines this position is: Could the need for the economy in petrol have been foreseen with a view to putting forward some other scheme than its total abolition? It is necessary, in answering that question, to look briefly at the history of this matter. Last spring the hearts of all motorists were gladdened by the knowledge that the basic petrol ration was to be increased by 50 per cent., and the one-gallon coupons were to become worth one and a half gallons. On August 6 the Prime Minister announced a cut of 33⅓ per cent. in the basic ration, and 10 per cent. for other users, to come into operation in October. Then, on August 28, the Government announced the complete abolition of the basic petrol ration, a decision, they said, due to a review of the position, and the strain on sterling. I will make the assertion—naturally I will willingly withdraw it if I am proved to be wrong; it is an assertion of some gravity—that the Petroleum Board were never consulted by the Government before the total abolition was announced. I hope that I am wrong in that, and, if so, I will most humbly withdraw. It is perhaps more courageous to make an assertion which you must withdraw than to ask a question.

We were told that the difficulty of convertibility of the dollar-sterling position was largely the cause of the withdrawals. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer's defence of convertibility was that he had grave misgivings about it all the time; that when the convertibility clauses were put into our Loan Agreement he was extremely worried. If one accepts that, surely it seems reasonable that the Government should have had plans in regard to petroleum in case the misgivings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer proved to be justified. We can reasonably ask the Government: If the Chancellor had these misgivings on the increase in May, why partially cut down at the beginning of August, and why completely abolish at the end of August? It seems to me that there is a lack of plan in this Government of Planners, and we ought not to have had this haphazard contradiction of events, which certainly the ordinary public, and I think many members of your Lordships' House, do not understand.

I do not want to make a general political speech in any way, but when we think of this increase, and then two subsequent decreases in the petrol ration, we cannot help recalling the surprise which was sprung on the country by the coal crisis, and the series of other events which seem to have taken the Government by surprise as much as they have taken the general community. Someone remarked to me the other day that it was rather like Ethelred the Second; that this Government would go down in history labelled as "The administration of Attlee the Unready."

I pass now to the question of saving. This has been put at £9,000,000— £4,000,000 by the cut on August 6, and a further £5,000,000 by the total abolition. I do not want to go deeply into figures, but we should like to know how this £9,000,000 saving is calculated. Is it all a dollar saving? Does it represent the bulk purchase price of petrol bought in the United States, or does it include freightage; and if so is it a dollar freightage or a sterling freightage? If it be the latter, then obviously the £9,000,000 is not entirely a dollar saving; it may be a total sterling saving partly represented by dollars and partly by sterling.

Another point upon which we would like some light is this. If the basic ration were reduced to a coupon value of half a gallon, how much saving would the Government obtain in dollars? We on this side of the House do not in any way criticize the Government for making the maximum effort to obtain dollar savings at the present time, but the country does want clear facts as to how much is being saved. As the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has promised certain figures I think I can leave that point there.

What we want to judge is whether any dollar savings by the Government, important and vital as they are at the present time, are not outweighed by the losses at home in several other directions. I do not want to make any absurd comparisons as to how the saving could have been achieved in other ways, but equally we are entitled to ask the Government not to try to put the case of food against petrol. I think we may take exception to the argument: "Well, of course, the saving does represent the equivalent timber for 110,000 houses." That was the defence put up by the Minister in another place. He said that the saving would be 187,000 standards of soft wood and that that was the amount required for 110,000 houses. Every one of us knows that whether the saving is represented in timber or not, 110,000 houses will not be built in the Government programme and by the maximum effort. It is no good comparing petrol and the houses we are not going to have with the houses you would not have in any case.

The next point I would like to raise is this. I wonder whether the Government realize the effect and the loss of general efficiency in our national life which will be brought about by this abolition. For the recovery of something less than a fraction of a penny in the pound of our dollar gap, they are throwing out of gear the smooth running of nearly the whole of our community. The car is no longer the rich man's perquisite. I take exception to propaganda speeches made in another place and in the country, and in the writings of the Government Press, which talk about "the rich man's hobby" and about "pleasure motoring." If your Lordships care to examine statistics you will see that there are approximately 1,800,000 motor cars registered in this country. Four out of five of those are under twelve horsepower; more than half of those registered are under ten horse-power and there are something like 250,000 motor cycles. I give you those figures to prove my point that the motor car is a thing used by every man to-day. Indeed, it is very often the poor man's reward for incentive. He works hard, he saves and he has his motor car as a thing of relaxation at weekends and to use during his business.

I know that some noble Lords believe in the perfect planned State, where all men will work equally hard not for themselves, their wives, their children or their homes, but just for the glory of working for the State. That is the implementation of theory, will No 1ncentive being required. But unfortunately human nature has not yet joined the Fabian Society! Maybe it should have joined but it has not yet, and to-day men do seek incentive. The Government are recognizing that in many directions in their policy, so why not have a reward for working by allowing the small man to have his car, which very often is the normal means of transport for him? If your Lordships go to any industrial factory you will see a large range of small motor cars and motor cycles outside the factory gates. The motor car has become the normal means of transport for the executive and the technician going to and from their work. The technician and the executive know no hours. They do not fear overtime, because they have always known that they could get on their motor cycle or into their car, and get home somehow.

What will be the position to-day, when we need more than ever the expert technicians and executives in industry? They will have to look at the clock in order to see that they catch the five-thirty 'bus; and let us remember that it will not be the five-thirty 'bus as we know it to-day. It will be a five-thirty 'bus thoroughly over-crowded: probably they will not even be able to get on it. I believe that this step will do a great amount of harm to our industrial effort, and that the wheels of industry will steadily slow down as the wheels of the motorists cease to turn.

I want very quickly to turn to the rural districts. I am quite sure that the essential petrol, which it is intended the Government should issue, will not be sufficient for the needs of the rural districts of our country. In many rural districts there are no amenities. Petrol for the farmers is not enough, because all people contribute to rural community life in a whole variety of ways. It has been said in defence of the Government's action that essential petrol will be given for shopping, for schools and for doctors. That was the statement made recently in another place. What is the good of having essential petrol given you to visit the doctor if it is an emergency call, and your car has been laid up? You cannot apply for petrol to go to the doctor for a series of problematical visits. Undoubtedly rural communities are going to be hit very hard.

Since this Motion was put on the Order Paper I have received many letters from all over the country. I would like to read one only, a letter from a country parson. He says this: For the country motorist, his car is his life-line connecting him with his shopping centre, enabling him to keep in touch with his friends, and to continue to take part in such social life as other restrictions have still left to him. … The Government will, of course, reply that the country motorist will receive E coupons for essential purposes. But it would be impossible to specify on any application form for E coupons the variety of calls for which the countryman has to use his car. For example, something may be urgently needed for the house, for the garden, etc. It might be possible to fetch it by using public vehicles, but this only by giving up a whole day, whereas with the car it is a matter only of an hour or two. When the Government say that petrol will be given for essential purposes, they do not at the same time draw the attention of those to whom they are saying it, to the very severe interrogation through which a potential user of a motor car will have to go. I have here the form which is sent to applicants in rural areas, and for a moment I would like to give your Lordships some of the information that the rural user is expected to supply: State the name of the nearest place at which essential foodstuffs can be purchased. Note: Only very exceptional circumstances, which must be clearly stated in (9) below, will be regarded as preventing the use of village shopping facilities. Who is to say that village shopping facilities will really fulfil the needs of all those who live in the countryside? No village shop can at all times give the service as regards quantity or scope of articles that every household needs, and a visit to a large shopping centre is necessary. The next question is: State the walking distance (to nearest quarter mile) from residence to place named in (x)"— that is the shopping centre. It is no good talking about a mile or half a mile or a mile and a half, if you are not going to take into account the age factor. It is much harder for someone of sixty to walk a mile than for someone twenty years younger to do so; and it is no good a person of ninety being told he ought to walk three quarters of a mile. Who is to judge that a person must walk such and such a distance, or is to be allowed petrol? Another question is: State what goods are delivered to your locality by tradesmen and how many times per week. The average person in a village does not know all the tradesmen's vans from various places which might or might not visit the village.

I think it is rather misleading for the Government to say that petrol will be given for various reasons when there is an inquisition such as this, and when the officer in a town office will judge the needs of each individual rural citizen whom he has never seen and in respect of a district he has never visited. One of the chief reasons why the basic ration was found necessary was that of administration, because it was realized that officials cannot judge each man's needs and, even more, cannot judge one man's need as against another man's. I would forecast that the administration of this particular coupon scheme will be found very difficult. All of us are hearing of long delays in respect of applications. I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack if he could kindly tell us—I am sure it would go out from him and from your Lordships' House to a very wide field—what local appeal machinery exists regarding petrol applications for the man who has not got satisfaction. No appeal machinery has been announced yet, and it is very important that we should know whether it does exist.

I would like briefly to touch on other aspects of this abolition of the basic ration. For instance, the Government are killing the efforts of many ex-Service men. These men have put their money and their hopes into small garages around the countryside and now they are going to find their hopes extinguished and their savings gone. Another consideration for a Government of the Left is that it is very unfair to introduce something which will hit the poorest man and allow the man who is comparatively well-off to get off much more lightly, because he can hire a car, while the poor man who has had his petrol taken away has no such advantage.

Then there is the financial aspect. The loss of revenue the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put at £19,000,000— £10,000,000 from licence duties and £9,000,000 from the petrol tax—on the basis of half of the 1,800,000 cars coming off the road, that is, 900,000. Let us assume that the user of a car spent £100 a year on petrol, tax, insurance and general running and maintenance. You are, therefore, putting £90,000,000 of new inflationary money into circulation at a time when the Chancellor says he wants less and less money in circulation instead of more and more money chasing fewer goods. Various suggestions have been made as to how the Government might have more petrol. I will not argue this because the Government have sources of information which an ordinary member of the Opposition does not possess. Let me ask only this. Could we have got any more from the sterling area? The production in Iran has been between £18,000,000 and £20,000,000 worth a year, which is more than the whole of the consumption of the United Kingdom. Of course you have to sell for dollars, and we know that that is the maximum amount. Six or seven million more tons have been produced from the Middle East. Could we have had more tankers from the United States? I understand that six tankers have been bought or chartered and we could have brought all the petrol required for the continuation of the basic ration.

Next there is the question of savings. The Government say that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are going to cut waste. We all want to see the Services save petrol, though not, of course, at the cost of essential training; and the Minister of Fuel and Power said the Services would be using 600,000 tons of fuel in the year ending June, 1948. I would like to know what is the Service use of oil in its widest sense—diesel oil, aviation spirit, kerosene and paraffin. We feel that there ought to be a saving not only in respect of motor spirit but in respect of all forms of fuel which is used. It is as well to remember that a normal four-engined bomber flying for fifteen minutes uses enough fuel for a man to keep a ten-horse-power car on the road, doing 1,500 miles, for a. year. We do not want to cut down training; but we feel that if there is a rigorous surveillance of petrol used by the Services it should go a measurable distance towards achieving the economy necessary for the restoration of the basic ration. We want an example of economy from the Government; but all we are getting is a bill for £22,928,000 this year for motor cars purchased on behalf of the Government. This year they have bought 1,255 passenger cars, and they have on order another 1,360. I will not say that that is not necessary, but at any rate we should like to feel that the Government are setting an example themselves as regards saving and that each Department has a target figure to which it has got to get down.

Surely it might have been possible to achieve savings on commercial vehicles. It is a fact that the long-distance haulage industry does not come under the Ministry of Fuel and Power but under the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry of Transport have not found themselves able to check the black market in commercial petrol which has been going on in long-distance haulage. Could we not have reduced the basic ration to half the coupon value and put a limited radius of action, so that no-one could run more than, say, fifteen miles from the point of issue of their petrol licence book? I have never seen an adequate answer to the suggestion of that scheme.

Finally, what of the future? The Government stand firm on this, and I know that they are going to stand firm because they have declared so. There have been inspired Press statements that the basic ration is not going to be reviewed until next June or July and, indeed, that it might stay off for the whole of next year. This debate will have served a useful purpose, apart from drawing attention to he regrettable and, I think, avoidable decision which the Government have taken in the past, if the noble Viscount could tell us this: that the Government are not going to wait until June or July to review the matter, but will keep it under constant review—to-night, to-morrow, and every day, in order to see whether the basic petrol ration can be restored in some form, however small, at a far earlier date than next summer. I do not believe that you can keep a great section of the people of this country in the state of subjection which they feel they have been put into by the abolition of this basic petrol ration. If the Government will undertake that their review shall not be in respect of a Chancellor of the Exchequer's finances and the Ministry of Fuel's petrol requirements only, but shall also be a review taking into consideration those wider questions of national well-being and national efficiency which I have tried to sketch very briefly to-day, then in my belief the Government in the very near future will see the error of their ways and realize theft the basic petrol ration should never have been taken away from the people.

5.12 p.m.

EARL MANVERS had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the grave inconvenience caused to country-dwellers by the loss of the basic petrol ration; whether it is the case that civilian consumption of petrol is a drop in the ocean compared with Service expenditure; and whether this attempt to impress foreigners with the conditions of austerity under which we are living does not impose needless hardship on our people; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the House will have noticed that there is on the Order Paper a Motion standing in my name which is rather similar to that which has been so eloquently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I have been told that it would be a convenience to the House if my Motion were to be taken at this time, so that one reply might be made to the House on both Motions.

My excuse for raising the matter of petrol at all is that I raised it three years ago during the War. I ventured to suggest at that time that if the aeroplanes which were darkening the sky overhead were each of them using 160 gallons of petrol an hour, that if the Army tanks which surrounded my house in Nottinghamshire could travel only three-quarters of a mile to the gallon, and that if the naval motor-boat which my daughter was driving on Southampton Water used 16 gallons of petrol per day, it was surely needless to harass the unfortunate country dweller by taking away his basic petrol ration, which amounted to only ten or twelve gallons per month—I repeat, per month. Since that time, an even more striking example has been brought to my notice, a device named F.I.D.O., which, I believe, is used for clearing the fog away from aerodromes. I have been told, but I have not been able to verify it, that F.I.D.O. uses no less than 1,000 gallons per minute in performing its duty. I want to make it quite clear that I do not grudge to our pilots, and I do not grudge to their passengers—of whom I am sometimes one myself—any measure of safety that F.I.D.O. may give them. I quote the immense quantity of petrol used by F.I.D.O. only by way of comparison with the microscopic requirements of the civilian motorists.

When I brought up the question three years ago, the reply came from the noble Lord, Lord Bruntisfield, who was at that time Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. The noble Lord gave me a most informative, lucid and courteous reply, but it amounted practically to: "Don't you want to win the war?" I did want to win the war, of course, and I felt obliged to withdraw my Motion at that time. I do not suppose that that particular argument will be available to the Government spokesman to-night. If I were asked, "Don't you want to win the peace?", I should reply, first of all, that I am not quite sure what that means; and, secondly, that, in my view, there is very little peace to be won by denying petrol to the country motorist, and, at the same time, by ruining wayside inns and garages in the manner which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye.

During the debate on the Address in reply to His Majesty's most gracious Speech at the opening of Parliament, this question was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Rochdale, in terms of greater eloquence than I can command, but I did not observe that any reply was made by the Government to their cogent arguments. I am very glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is going to follow me again tonight. It has been observed that, in a democratically-governed country, it is sometimes necessary to defer to the wishes of the people. I am in hopes that His Majesty's Government will decide that this is an occasion on which such deference might reasonably be shown.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I thought that it might be convenient to your Lordships if I were to speak at a very early stage, because I intend in the course of my observations—I am afraid that this is going to be a very dull speech—to give some figures which have not yet been revealed, in order that your Lordships may see how we stand. That I will deal with when I come to the actual point. So far as the Government are concerned and I am concerned, your Lordships need not trouble to emphasize the fact that this involves very real hardship to not a few people, and even if it does not involve hardship, there are not so very many pleasures nowadays that we can lightly throw one of them overboard. Consider that, and consider, if you will, the case which I unfold, in the light of the very unpleasant circumstances of the day. I am not going to make a speech which is, in the slightest degree Party or, I hope, controversial. I am going to give your Lordships, so far as I have them, the facts and the figures, just as if we were all sitting round a board together, in order that we may know where we stand.

May I begin by reminding your Lordships—because your Lordships must consider the general setting—of the statement which Sir Stafford Cripps made in his speech in another place last week? He said that if we go on at the present rate throughout the year 1948 we shall have a dollar deficit of the equivalent of £475,000,000. Therefore he said it is essential to make all the cuts we can, and to export to dollar countries so that we may earn dollars on all the goods we can, and, supposing everything goes according to plan, and we manage to reach all our targets and sell all the goods we produce, we shall still have a dollar deficit in the year 1948 of the equivalent of £250,000,000. My Lords, I am not like the fat boy in Pickwick, and I do not want to make your flesh creep, but I must point out that the assumption that we can do all those things is a considerable assumption. If we take that assumption as granted, at the end of 1948 we shall have £270,000,000 left in the world with which to support and maintain the whole sterling area. That is the position, and it is as well that everybody should realize it.

I went to America this summer and I made speeches. I wanted to tell the Americans that we were not going to lie back comfortably, as it were, and expect them to come to our aid, but that we were going to do everything we conceivably could to help ourselves—we were going to tighten our belts and take the hard path, even though it hurt. That very dear friend of this country, my old friend John Winant, of whose tragic death we heard only yesterday, came to see me and said, "I do beg you to go on with that theme. You must show my people that your people are prepared to put up with all sorts of hardships and inconveniences to help yourselves. Then your case for assistance here will be unanswerable."

Every restriction involves a risk to productivity, even if it is a mere restriction on pleasure. A man may work hard during the week, as some of your Lordships do, and. on Saturday or Sunday go and play a game of golf—which in your Lordships' case I expect is generally an excellent game. The tact that you have that exercise and that change of thought is a good thing for you, and it means that you can do your work for the rest of the week more efficiently I realize to the full that this cut means that many of us will have to do without that, and, as Lord Balfour said, it is quite wrong to think of motoring to-day as the privilege of the rich man. You see people crammed in cars going to the seaside in order that the children can have the chance of a day on the sands. It is, of course, the fact that a man has in that the inducement and the spur to work. We realize that, but we must do something to get these figures down, even though it hurts.

Let us look at what we are doing. I am not going to compare one thing with another. First of all we are cutting our capital construction for the present to the extent of £200,000,000; that covers all new building, houses, lactones, new plant and machinery. At the present time we have 260,000 houses under construction and 90,000 under contract, and we shall finish those. But we have to come down in 1949 to 140,000 houses; and those of you who know what unhappiness is caused to-day by the housing shortage will realize what it means to come down from 260,000, the number of houses now under construction, to 140,000. So far as steel is concerned, we have to cut that to the extent of 30,000 tons a quarter, which means that work in some factories must be stopped altogether and supplies for the railways, which are in a bad way, must also be cut.

Perhaps as important as all this is what we have had to do in regard to food. I understand that before the war we con- sumed on an average about 3,000 calories per day. The figure before these cuts was 2,870, and it has now to be reduced to 2,700. That is done to save £66,000,000. That £66,000,000 is made up of a lot of little things, all of which are small in themselves—"bits and pieces," as Sir Stafford Cripps called them. We have not to take this bit, or call attention to a particular piece, and say how small it is. We have to apply the old maxim, "Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves," and we have to collect these pence from wherever we can get them. That is the general setting of this grim and horrible story.

Now I come to consider the exact petrol position. I will give your Lordships all the figures I can, and if my figures are not plain, I hope you will stop me. I thought it would be convenient if I spoke at this time, because there is obviously some misapprehension about these figures. I will start with the United Kingdom consumption of petrol for the year ended August, 1947. In some respects this is estimated and, for the moment, I am leaving out surpluses. With regard to transport generally—and by that I mean commercial, public services and miscellaneous—consumption was 2,930,000 tons, which is near enough 3,000,000; with regard to private motorists, the basic ration was 890,000 tons and the supplementary ration 730,000 tons, making a total for basic and supplementary of 1,620,000 tons. So the two figures are, broadly speaking, for commercial transport, passenger and goods, and so on, 2,900,000 tons; and for private motorists 1,600,000 tons.

I can only give you the figure for the Services up to the year ended June 30. The figures, therefore, do not quite tally, but I think it is a fair indication of what they were for the year ended August 31. The Services consumed 1,065,000 tons, excluding aviation spirit. The amount of aviation spirit was 304,000 tons. That is the position, I think, for 1947. Our estimate for 1948, assuming we continued on that basis—that is to say, with the basic ration as heretofore and without the cuts—is that the total consumption would go up from 4,500,000 tons (which was the total for the year ended August, 1947) to 4,800,000 tons.

With the proposed cuts and with the abolition of the basic ration we estimate that the total consumption will be 3,800,000 tons (of which the Services' consumption will be 620,000 tons) as against the 4,800,000 tons had there been no alteration in the basic ration and no cuts. Your Lordships will notice that the Services really are showing a very considerable reduction. If they make the cut that is estimated, their consumption will go clown from 1,065,000 tons, which was the actual consumption for the year ended June 30, 1947, to 620,000 tons, which is the estimate for the year ending August, 1948.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount whether the aviation spirit figures come into that last figure?


I am not sure, but I will find out if I may, and let the noble Lord know. The figure of 1,065,000 tons, I understand, did not include aviation spirit. The figure for aviation spirit was 304,000 tons. I have not the comparable figure for 1948; it may be that the Service Ministries do not want to reveal what their estimate is. If there is no objection to revealing it, I will find out what it is and let the noble Lord know. But aviation spirit is not included in the figure so far as I know.


My Lords, what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has just said is not in agreement with an answer given in another place last week, and which is reported in Column 1041 of the House of Commons Hansard. It says there that the consumption of the Services will be 530,000 tons in the case of the Army and 66,000 tons in the case of the Royal Air Force. That makes a total of approximately 600,000 tons.


I do not know how the difference in these figures arises. The noble Earl, I think, means that his figures add up to 600,000 tons, while my figure is 620,000 tons. I am afraid I have not the necessary information to reconcile these figures. Now I am told that I have not made it plain that the figures of 4,500,000 tons, which represented the actual consumption in 1947, 4,800,000 tons which would have been the equivalent in 1948 had there been no cuts, and the 3,800,000 tons which we estimate for 1948, all represent civilian consumption. The Services are outside those figures. If I have not made that plain it is my fault.

The next question is this: If the estimated basic consumption is of the order of 960,000 tons, which is one figure I have been given (it is only an estimate), we must, of course, concede something by way of ration to people who really need it for business purposes, and we estimate that they will take 160,000 tons. So we estimate that the saving is 800,000 tons—not a full 1,000,000 or 900,000 tons. A saving of 800,000 tons of petrol was equivalent in value to £7,500,000 at the time the cut was announced. At the present time it is equivalent in saving to some £9,000,000. Of course, if the prices fall it will go down; if the prices rise it will go up. I treat the figure for the moment as £7,500,000, that being the saving at the prices existing at the time the cuts were announced. The basis of that is f.o.b. plus freight. It is not based on retail prices or retail charges in this country. It includes No 1nternal United Kingdom charges. I do not know, for the moment, whether that freight charge is dollar or sterling. I do not think that in practice—and I will give the reasons for that in a moment—it very much matters.

Now let me turn to a different topic altogether. It is very often said: "Surely you can get this petrol. You need not buy it from dollar sources at all. Get it from your British controlled companies." I will tell your Lordships the facts about the estimated production of the British controlled companies—I mean in particular companies like Shell (I am disregarding the Dutch side of that concern), Anglo-Iranian and Trinidad Leaseholds. The production of those companies and other big companies which I have not mentioned, for the year 1948, is estimated to be 8,000,000 tons. Now see where we get. I have already told your Lordships that the United Kindom consumption is estimated to be 3,800,000 tons and the sterling area consumption is estimated to be 5,600,000 tons. Many of your Lord-shops understand this much better than I do, and, of course, you will realize that countries in the sterling area who have pooled their dollars with us can demand that we supply them with the petrol. If we did not they would simply buy dollar petrol and we should have to supply the dollars to do it.

The foreign trade consumption is estimated at 2,900,000 tons. That is divided as follows: hard currency countries, like Sweden, 1,600,000 tons, semi-hard currency countries, such as Denmark, 850,000 tons, and the soft currency countries, such as France and her possessions, 450,000 tons. The supply to the soft currency countries is under consideration, but we have some moral responsibility with regard to them; and moreover it is only wise to maintain, if we can, our organizations, to keep them just turning over. Now let me summarize the figures. They are 3,800,000 tons for the United Kingdom, 5,600,000 tons for the sterling area, and 2,900,000 tons for foreign trade. That makes a grand total of 12,300,000 tons. That is what we have to supply, as opposed to 8,000,000 tons which is the estimated 1948 production of the concerns to which I have referred. Therefore your Lordships will see that in regard to petrol we are marginally on dollars all the time to the extent of 30 per cent. And, of course, we cannot fulfil our necessary requirements without buying dollar petrol. Those are the figures, and I have tried to give your Lordships a full statement of them. I think they show that the conception of being able to buy from sterling areas as opposed to dollar areas is erroneous.

Two schemes have been put forward by the motoring clubs. First, they have said: Retain half the basic ration—that would be a saving of something like £3.750,000—and have cuts in all other uses of petrol proportionately, according to the extent to which each particular use is deemed to be essential to the national need, so as to reach the total of £7,500,000. It seems to me that the scheme has this vice. It merely transfers the burden from the user who is less likely to be essential to the user who is more likely to be essential. I am bound to say, even if it be the fact that we can save more on the commercial petrol, that I cannot regard that as being a substitute for a cut in the basic ration. I should ask for that to be cumulative, having regard to our difficulties. The Minister of Transport was most reluctant to go as far as the 10 per cent. cut. I think we all know that there has in the past beer a black market arising from commercial petrol, and it will be very carefully watched in the future. If there is anything more to be got from there, please do not regard it as an alternative. If, as I frankly conceded, the abolition of the basic ration is lamentable, I think a cut over and above the 10 per cent. on commercial petrol would be likely to do more harm to our productivity. It is from that point of view that we have to select our cut: Which is less likely to harm productivity?

The latest suggestion made by the motoring organizations, as recently as October, was that we should retain half the basic ration with the restriction of users to a radius of twenty miles. The restriction was really put on to enable the police by stopping cars to stop the black market. The plan was not intended to affect any user in itself but to enable the authorities to keep control of the situation. The reason why we are bound to reject such a plan is that it effects only half the saving we want. Quite frankly, we want not only the full £7,500,000 but if we can get any more from anywhere else, we want that too. There are those who think that the abolition of the basic ration will lead to an increase in black market activities. I do not myself think so, but we shall have to see. After all, the cut of 10 per cent. on commercial vehicles, which can if necessary be increased if we find we can do it without interfering with productivity, may seriously interfere with the source of the black market.

I believe the greatest asset that we have in getting through these very troublous times—and I said this in America—is that we are a law-abiding people. Of course, there is a danger that when you multiply, as, I confess, you must multiply, these rules and regulations, you increase the temptation to break the law, and if we do not remain a law-abiding people we shall never get through our difficulties. That is my belief. Therefore, your Lordships will see that I am fully alive to the difficulty. I wish very much indeed that we had not to do this thing, but having given your Lordships facts and figures and shown you what we are doing about housing and steel and food, though it hurts devilishly much, I think we have got to make up our minds that we must do without the basic ration. Of course the matter will be kept under review, because no one wants to go on with restrictions a day longer than necessary. I should be prophesying smooth things and not prophesying honestly, however, if I led your Lordships to believe there is any hope, so far as I can see, in the near future of our financial position so far improving that we can restore that which we should all very much like to restore.

There are one or two other questions I was asked. So far as tankers are concerned, the Government have provided oil companies with dollars to buy tankers allocated to the United Kingdom by the United States Building Commission. I do not regard this problem as being in any sense a tanker problem, or as being alleviated by tankers. With regard to the Petroleum Board, I may tell your Lordships that the Board were not consulted, nor are they in any way concerned with the administration of the rationing scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, wanted to know why we had an increase in August, 1946, and had to announce this decision in 1947. The answer is, because the economic situation has deteriorated. It is no good denying it; prices have risen enormously. For our dollars we are getting fewer and fewer goods, and people are now being brought face to face with the crisis.


I thought the noble and learned Viscount said that there was a reduction in August, 1946, and abolition in 1947. In fact, the reduction began in August, 1947, and abolition later, so it was in the same month.


I thought the noble Lord referred to the increase in August, 1946. I have given a sketch of the position and have tried to give the facts as I see them, impartially. I believe it is the right thing to give the people of this country the facts. If they are brought face to face with the facts they will rise to them and get through the difficulties. Do not think the Government do this lightheartedly, and do not think the Government do not realize that hardships will be imposed by all these cuts. This cut certainly increases them more than any other, except perhaps the cut in food. I confess that the cut I would want to restore before any other, if I had my way, would be the cut in food.


Would the noble and learned Viscount touch on one point, with which he said he might not have time to deal? When the rural user feels that the urban official deals with him unfairly, is there any appeal machinery?


Yes, there will be appeal machinery.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder how many of your Lordships would like to change places with me, in following the noble and learned Viscount. His statement has been clear, and has knocked the bottom out of most of my speech because he has replied to many of the questions I was going to ask. He said his speech would give us time to prepare our own, but I am the unlucky one who has not had time to prepare my speech. However, there is one point on which I wish to be quite clear; that is, that the increase in, and the supplementary, petrol ration exactly equals, on the figures I have worked out, the drop in the basic. The noble and learned Viscount will correct me if I am wrong. I would ask especially, on behalf of the rural users, what exactly would be the position if the whole of the E and S coupons were withdrawn and the basic ration, less the 50 per cent. suggested the other day, allowed for it."

Frankly, I remain a supporter of Lord Balfour's speech. I am certain, even after the Lord Chancellor's statistics, that the people of this country are not convinced that this cut is fair or, indeed, necessary. The noble and learned Viscount mentioned that the various clubs took a deputation to the Minister. Actually, the deputation consisted of all societies interested directly in the motor car. and included, amongst others, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. I do not think that any member of the deputation was satisfied with the reply of the Minister, nor were many Members in another place satisfied with the reply of the Minister there. To-day we have the advantage of having had further statistics. The Minister promised a constant review of the position, and I would like to ask today that that review should be constant, that it should be almost immediate, and that it should take place at Cabinet level.

It has been stated frequently that this decision was taken without asking the advice of the motoring societies, the Petroleum Board, or even the Minister himself, he not being a member of the Cabinet. I believe that our Prime Minister is a reasonable, understanding and kind-hearted man, and if further action could be taken on the basis that I suggest, the severe cutting of the E and S ration in favour of some form of basic, it would be fairer. We have been given the figures of the loss on taxation, and the saving. I do not think we have yet laid enough stress on the loss in time and fatigue, find the loss in public voluntary and unpaid work. We have all received many letters on this particular subject. I have one here (I will not read it, because I think I can state it) which shows that a Justice of the Peace is not allowed petrol. He has been to the only court of appeal so far, the Petroleum Board, and he is not allowed petrol. The barristers and lawyers attending courts are allowed petrol, but he, as a voluntary worker, is not. Not only has he had to give up his job on the Bench, but he is also giving up several other voluntary undertakings.


May I interrupt the noble Marquess for one moment? A Justice of the Peace can get a supplementary ration if he will only go to the local appeals committee, which exists in every region. At any rate, there is one; in Yorkshire.


This particular letter is from Lancashire.


Then they are just slow.


This letter says: It is fantastic and directly contrary to the principles of justice we are asked to administer that the attendance of solicitors and barristers at our Courts should be considered essential by the Petroleum Board, and petrol granted for this purpose, and yet he attendance of the Magistrates, the 'great unpaid,' is apparently of No 1mportance at all to these paid public servants.


May I suggest that this magistrate lives on a bus route? If you have a bus passing your door you will not be allowed petrol.


To return to the saving that could possibly be made—in fact, I am sure could be made—members of the Control Commission in Germany still have petrol for 500 miles pleasure motoring. The figures of the colossal orders for cars, which have already been quoted to-day and which I think horrified the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself when he gave them in another place, could surely be cut down. These figures, I am given to understand, do not include orders for cars for the Coal Board, for British civil aviation, or for the police. And of course they exclude the Services. If we could be given a figure for new cars ordered for Government-controlled Departments I think we would see how the renewal of the small basic ration could be assisted.

Finally, I believe there is a great deal in the system which has already been tried in Norway. It has been touched on to-day. It is the use of the basic ration for certain hours, within a certain radius. It has shown a tremendous saving in what we might call police snooping which, from rumours I hear, is going to be of an exceptionally unpleasant nature under this new Order. It would also have a tremendous saving in the number of civil servants who will have to deal with these applications. How can any one, however fair-minded or however highly paid, sitting in an office, judge as to who shall be allowed three gallons in a rural area or who should not? We already have cases of supplementary petrol required for the month of November being applied for as soon as the Order came out. There are people with medical certificates who are denied any petrol whatever, yet people living in the same neighbourhood are getting petrol without certificates. I again plead for an immediate review, at Cabinet level, of the position, and the saving to be made out of the reduction of E and S coupons, and the use of cars for Government and semi-Government work.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. Unlike the noble Marquess who has just sat down, I welcome the intervention of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, because I agree with him one hundred per cent. that there is nothing the British public want more than the truth and the facts. It is not that the British public object to hardship, but they do object to injustice; and the British public to-day are seriously disturbed, not because they do not accept that we have to cut these things to the bone, but because they are certain that the abolition of the basic petrol ration offends against their sense of justice and fair play, and violates the first principle to be observed in all hardship of fair shares and equality of sacrifice.

All the cuts which the British public have had to contend with during the war, and after, have, at least, more or less honoured that principle. But this offends against their sense of justice, because they believe, quite sincerely, that these savings, necessitous as they are, could have been obtained in a fairer manner. I know the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will forgive me if I use words which I expect he has used times out of number in the course of his career, which were uttered by a very great figure in his profession: that it is not only necessary for justice to be done, but it is equally necessary for it to be apparent that justice is being done. The British public are satisfied that the manner in which the basic petrol ration has been abolished does not conform to this high level. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the electorate expressed its opinion in no uncertain way in the polling booths on Saturday last.

I do not intend to recount in any detail the case as it could be stated for the individual unit of transport and the place it occupies in the industrial and social structure of this country; nor do I think it necessary to emphasize the dangerous position of our public transport system and the transport crisis which is facing us during this coming winter, stressed only two or three days ago by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who uttered a timely warning. I recapitulated all these facts and set them out in the speech I made upon the occasion of the debate on the Address in reply to the King's Speech, and I will not weary your Lordships with repetition. I believe they are relevant facts. I would contend that they have been accepted by official quarters in the admission that a ration of petrol will have to be given to the private motor car owner when an essential or semi-essential case has been made out. I am given to understand that it is estimated that there will be about 1,300,000 cars which will come into that category.

Again, is it not significant that at the first sign of difficulty and trouble that we have with public transport, aid is called from the private motor car? Birmingham transport system has broken down, and the first thing that happens is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power go to the R.A.C. and the A.A., and ask them to act as the issuing petrol coupon house to enable the private motorist to transport the people of Birmingham. That must be a telling reminder of the value of the unit of transport. I know that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will not mind my reminding him that the amount of petrol which is going to be given to the motorists of Birmingham to perform a national and public service has to come out of the saving estimate. I hope we shall not have too many like occurrences, but if we do have public transport breaking down from one cause or another, and in the end we have to call in—as we had to call in last winter and as we had to call in before—the private motor car owner to transport people to and from their work, I am afraid this saving, which looks so attractive, and which is a very strong debating figure on paper, will melt like snow before twelve months are out.

I would also join with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and other noble Lords who have commented upon the impossibility of an official—more often than not a very junior official—in a Divisional Petroleum Office miles away from the applicant, to adjudicate fairly between the rival claims of one who is an expert letter writer and another who is a poor pleader of his own case. Compare the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack writing a letter to a D.P.O., asking for a petrol ration, with all his forensic skill—and myself! Already very many anomalies are arising. If your Lordships would forgive a humorous digression, this story is told as being absolutely true. Within this last week or ten days the manager of one of London's leading football clubs, which I understand holds a very prominent position in what is known as the First Division, has received an allowance of petrol because, quite rightly, his job is looked upon as in some way essential. But the manager of his rival First Division club did not receive any answer to his application or any ration at all, but a blank refusal. Upon inquiries being made a very junior official said: "Oh, the rule is that we do not issue petrol to amateur football clubs." The scene in the board room of that club can better be imagined than described. But there are to-day, and there always must be, these anomalies.

It is fair to say that the decision these officials must make is far more serious to-day than it was when it. was a case of a supplementary ration. They are the arbiters as to whether a car shall be used or not. If you are going to employ people with the necessary qualifications who can adjudicate with knowledge and fairness in such a matter, the cost is going to mount even more than it is mounting now. Not only have extra staff to be employed, but overtime has to be paid to the existing staff, which I read in perhaps not the best informed London evening newspaper amounts now to £50,000 a month. When you put those factors into the scale I think your Lordships have every right to be disturbed.

I accept the necessity for these cuts. I am not going to contest anything which the noble and learned Viscount said about their necessity, and therefore the argument: of petrol versus food—always an over-simplification in my opinion—does not arise. I am going to seek to prove that the major part of the cut and the economy can be obtained by spreading the Lord in a far more equitable manner over all classes of user, so that the hardship would not fall upon one section of the community which has been singled out for a 100 per cent. cut but would be borne more or less equally by the whole. I know that in expressing this opinion the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will appreciate my point. What will affect the industrial efficiency of this country must always be a matter of opinion.

Comment has been made upon, and great publicity given to, the black market. I am not going to waste your Lordships' time by saying whether in my opinion it has been exaggerated or not; but I am satisfied that it is substantially of such a figure as to be alarming, and I would invite your Lordships to consider where it comes from. Bear in mind that, unlike a lot of other rationed commodities seeping into a black market, not one gallon of petrol leaves the distributing company without the surrender of a coupon, so if there is a black market in either coupons or petrol, it is proof that there is an over-generous allocation of coupons to users. And the amount of that black market is the measure of the surplus which is given to users over and above their requirements.

There is a widely-held view, which has been expressed by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, that the chief source of this black market is to be found among the commercial users. I will content myself with saying that there are very good grounds for that suspicion. I invite your Lordships to refresh your minds as to how the commercial user obtains his petrol. He does not get that petrol from the Divisional Petroleum Officers of the Ministry of Fuel and Power; it is distributed by the organization of the Ministry of War Transport, by group organizers, voluntary workers, who are at the same time transport operators themselves. There is no check on usage whatsoever. I am informed that the log which the commercial user had to keep was done away with at the end of the war. Thus the only basis for the decision of these officials as to whether or not the amount applied for is necessary is the statement of the case made by the operator himself. I would not hold free from blame, either, the private motorist who has a supplementary ration. I would not hold free from blame the agricultural user. But I am very certain that removing the basic ration from the private motorist will not cure the black market. Admittedly, it will reduce the number of participants; but there is only one way to cure the black market and that is to prevent it at its source. And I would argue that it is far better ruthlessly to cut all issues and allow a case to be made for more petrol for essential use than to give over-generous issues and see the balance seep into a black market.

I have said that the British public today are seriously disturbed because they are not satisfied that there is any equity in this matter. What is going to be the position if this black market goes on? I defy the wit of even the cleverest officials of the Ministry of Fuel and Power to stop it by present methods. You cannot stop this thing unless you prevent the issue. The people forced to give up their little motor car, their little jaunts out with their wives on Sundays, who see the owner of a couple of lorries riding about in a high-powered motor car on the petrol which is surplus to his requirements as a lorry-owner, will become even more annoyed.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has given a lot of figures; but he will appreciate that figures are very difficult to assimilate. I deduce from what he said that the saving desired is about 1,000,000 tons a year. I am going to suggest that if the basic ration were restored at the rate of 50 per cent. of what it was—that is three quarters of a gallon per unit instead of a gallon and a half—and if all supplementary petrol to private owners were cut by a minimum of 15 per cent., or perhaps 20 per cent., it would mean that to achieve a saving of 1,000,000 tons, all other users would have approximately to share a cut of 12½ per cent., which is only 2½ per cent. more than it is proposed to cut now. I am not going to say that that should be spread equally. I quite agree with the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that passenger transport perhaps should not receive a cut; but at the same time I am not satisfied that our passenger transport is carried on with that degree of economy which the situation demands.

There is one other point which calls for an answer. It is stated that while a basic ration is in existence it is impossible to check the use of petrol for non-essential purposes which has been issued for essential purposes. In other words, the basic ration is an umbrella under which all crimes have been committed! That is perfectly true; but I would ask the noble and learned Viscount to consider this. Is it seriously suggested that in an effort to find out whether 1,300,000 motorists who it is stated would remain on the road are absolutely conforming to what they have written on the piece of paper, a sample of which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, read to your Lordships, we are going to have the police of this country checking the goings and comings of these 1,300,000 to see whether they divert 25 yards from the highway to their favourite pub on one side of the road or their golf course on the other; whether they are committing a breach of conditions; whether in fact they are going to see their maiden aunt who is an invalid, or whether they are going to church? Is it conceivable that, at a time such as this, we should waste the man-power of the police force and of the Civil Service to check these things? Would it not be a lot better to admit the necessity of a motor car in our present economy but to cut down issues so that the car is only really being used for essential purposes? Cut the other users as I have suggested, and have some kind of spirit of "trust the people."

I am alarmed by what the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, said in the very fine speech he made in the debate on the Address. What he was disturbed about was that we should have restriction after restriction, restriction after restriction, until the people of this country got into a descending spiral where the will to work or the will to do anything else evaporated. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack quite rightly said, from his great knowledge, that we are, in effect, in this country a law-abiding nation, and the reason why we are a law-abiding nation is that we are never foolish enough in this country to pass laws which can be easily brought into contempt. The laws which we do pass have the support of the vast majority of the citizens. I am going to suggest that this law has the support of hardly any of the citizens, because they are not satisfied with its equity. When you think of starting prohibition, you could perhaps sensibly learn a lesson from America. What happened there, where they bred law-breakers through trying to prohibit the American public from having something which the American public had quite made up their minds they were going to have?

So I do join with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in appealing to His Majesty's Government, on the grounds of the industrial efficiency of this country, to restore a basic petrol ration. I know that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will not mind my saying that I do not agree that perhaps a ten per cent. cut in the commercial vehicle services of this country will affect the industrial efficiency of this country more than workers standing in bus queues frozen and wet through seeing buses go by. That is not the way to get those workers to produce more per production-hour. I believe that the public services system of this country will not be able to stand the load. The unit of individual transport has worked itself and ingrained itself into so much of our industrial system that when you take it out you are doing something which I know in the end will be against the national interest.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has, of course, based the case for the abolition of the basic petrol ration principally upon our dollar position. That was also the case with the Minister of Fuel and Power in another place, who used almost exactly the same arguments. We all agree that we have got to save dollars; everybody agrees about that. The noble and learned Viscount in his speech this afternoon referred to the hardship caused by the abolition of the basic petrol ration and the lack of pleasure and things that went with it. But the thing to which he did not allude is a thing which has just been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in that brilliant speech—namely, the unfairness of the working out of the present abolition of the basic petrol ration.

The noble and learned Viscount gave us this afternoon a history of the matter. But what nobody can quite understand is why the Prime Minister in another place—and this was confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if I am right—on August 6 announced that the basic petrol ration was to be continued on the basis of one gallon a unit. Parliament rose. Then we witnessed the spectacle of Ministers flying about in aeroplanes all over the place: I think one came from Inverness, another from Tenby and another from the Channel Islands. I have the figures of the cost of that; it was given in answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place. It cost £803 and expended 693 gallons of fuel. As a result of all that, the B.B.C. were employed to tell us that the Government had decided to do away with pleasure motoring. I object to that most extraordinary expression "pleasure motoring." What is one man's pleasure is another man's necessity, and at least the B.B.C. might be aware of that; but let it pass. The basic petrol ration was to be done away with.

That is not all. Motor coaches are still allowed to career up and down the country. They are merely cut by 10 per cent. in their fuel. Only yesterday I happened to notice a paragraph in one paper about the Royal Wedding. It said that motor coach companies were making arrangements to run motor coaches from all over the country to Romsey in Hampshire in order to try to see our beloved Princess and her Consort during their honeymoon. Is that the way to save this hard-earned petrol about which we have heard so much this afternoon? Then what about these "mystery" tours? They still go on. You can see motor coaches standing by waiting to go off on a "mystery" tour. What is the difference between pleasure motoring and pleasure coaching? I do not know. The long-distance coaches still run. Why is it necessary, if petrol is so very short, for long-distance motor coaches to run all the way between Edinburgh and London, or between Newcastle and London, or the like, and compete with our nationalized railways? I should have thought that the Government would not welcome it very much.

Then again, take the co-operative societies. I do not know how many of your Lordships have had the bad luck to meet one of these co-operative society tours on the way to Southend or Blackpool or Brighton. I have. I have met them going to all three places. If you are in a humble private motor car, heaven help you; you have to look out. That is the sort of thing which causes extreme exasperation, rather than annoyance, to the private motorist to-day. But, of course, there are many other sides to it. I want to appeal to the Lord Chancellor. He wants to see a saving in dollar expenditure; so do I; so do we all. We also want to see that there is a reasonable opportunity for an owner of a motor car to use it. I suggest that it should be possible to cut existing commercial vehicle allowances by thirty per cent. and allow a very small basic ration to continue.

The noble and learned Viscount this afternoon has given us many figures. Everybody knows how difficult it is to digest figures, and no one more so than myself. I understood the noble and learned Viscount to say that the total amount of Shell, Anglo-Iranian and Trinidad Leaseholds production of petrol per annum was 8,000,000 tons. I am not sure if I am really correct in that, because it seems to me an astonishingly small amount compared with what is generally understood to be the production of those firms. Anyhow, I am sure that we have got to accept it. On the other hand, if the ration had been continued on the basis of the Prime Minister's announcement on 6th August, then from what I can make out the expenditure of fuel for the basic ration would have been 640,000 tons, less 160,000 tons for E and S coupons, which would have left a figure of 480,000 tons. It has been stated in another place that 60 per cent. of our petrol and motor spirit imports come from dollar areas. If that is so, then the amount concerned from the dollar areas, as I work it out, would be 288,000 tons per annum. I may be wrong in those calculations, but that is the figure as I work it out.

The Lord Chancellor has told us about the expenditure of the Services, but, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and possibly by the noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, as well, nothing has been said about the expenditure of motor spirit by other Government Departments. We know that vast numbers of new cars are being ordered by the various Government Departments, and I should like to ask whether we could be given some figures to show what savings the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Health and the Office of Works have been able to show in their expenditure of motor spirit. Moreover the whole matter has been handled in a muddled way. Soon after these cuts in the basic ration were announced it was also announced by the Government that the F.I.D.O. installations at Manston and at Blackbushe near Camberley were in operation, or were going to be in operation, and that the pilots of aircraft who wanted the advantage of using one of those installations could ask for it but would probably have to pay the cost. Heaven help them if they do, because the expenditure of fuel at Manston, I understand, working at full pressure is 470,000 gallons an hour. And that, my Lords, is petrol. That seems to be an expensive business.

My next point is that the Government have been busily engaged in disposing of surplus aero engines, and they have, so I am told, been selling these 450 h.p. petrol engines for generating sets. These engines consume 20 gallons of petrol an hour. What is the private motorist to do when he sees all these figures, and when he is not allowed to have his few gallons, or whatever it is, for essential purposes? Do not imagine that you have merely to take advantage of the Prime Minister's declaration and prove an essential purpose to get your E coupons. If you happen to live anywhere within reach of a tram route or a bus route, no matter where that tram route or bus route goes—it may go in absolutely the opposite direction, or it may go completely hay-wire as far as you are concerned—you will still be refused your E coupons.

Now let us take the garage question. Of course it is necessary to save petrol, but by doing away with the basic ration you are really going to knock the garage business endways. It seems to me, and it has always seemed to me, that a prosperous garage industry is essential to the welfare of the motor industry of this country, and to destroy it when so many ex-Service men and others have just put their capital into it on the strength of Ministers' declarations in August last year and the beginning of August of this year, is to create an extraordinary position.

There have been some interesting questions and answers in another place regarding this matter. The Minister of Labour was asked how many garage workers he estimated would have to seek other employment as a result of the abolition of the basic petrol ration, and the reply given was: "I am unable to make such an estimate." Then another Member asked the President of the Board of Trade what was the estimated loss in trade in a full year which was likely to result from the termination of the basic ration. The answer to that was: I presume that the honourable and gallant Member has in mind garages and catering establishments which rely on the pleasure motorist for much of their trade. These concerns will inevitably suffer some loss of business, but no official statistics are available from which the extent of such loss in trade can be estimated. Why? Do they not matter? I should have thought that probably many of them would have come within the "Tinker's cuss." class. It does seem to me that the Government have not given adequate consideration to all these points.

Now I come to the question of the location of one's house in relation to one's work. Many people up and down the country have bought houses or invested in property, and they live, geographically, within a certain distance of their work. The figures of workers who use cars in order to go to work are rather striking, and I have got together a few of them. In the Morris organization 4,000 workers use their cars to go to work and I am informed that in the Vauxhall organization over 1,000 workers use them. It is the same with every factory up and down the country, great and small, to a greater or ess extent. I myself am connected with a firm at Southall where quite a number of workers are accustomed to turn up in their small cars, and some of them incidentally have to come all the way from Walthamstow, which is quite a long way. It is not their fault that they have to come from Walthamstow; the housing conditions are such that they cannot possibly get accommodation any nearer the factory. What incentive have the workers in these businesses really got? You cut their food you stagger their hours, you are going to direct them from one place to another and push them around, you levy P.A.Y.E. on their overtime, they have to join in the queues, and now you have cut off all their petrol. It seems to me that the workers are getting a very raw deal in all these ways.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the question of the police. I ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor what is going to happen about the police. Have the police made any representation about the position that is likely to arise, and the new duties which are likely to be thrust upon them as a result of this decision? It seems to me that the police will have the duty every few days of carrying out a sort of roundup of all the cars on the roads, to find out whether or not they are in fact being used according to the conditions under which the E or S coupons have been issued. There appears to be no other way of carrying out the Government's decision, and I would like to know whether the police have been consulted at all.

We have been told this afternoon—and it was stated in another place in answer to a question—that the Petroleum Board have not been consulted about this business. I would like to ask the Lord Chancellor whether the Petroleum Board have at any time within the last two years made any special representations to the Government about their petrol policy, their fuel policy, their fuel oil policy, and so on. I understand that representations have been made, and, if they have, I would like to know whether we can be told what they were.

A further point I wish to raise is in connexion with the strikes to which Lord Lucas has referred. We know perfectly well that our transport system is not getting any better—the railways are getting into a terrible state. These unofficial strikes break out at intervals all over the London Passenger Transport Board area, and we have had them also in the Provinces. There has been a strike in Birmingham. Many of these strikes are unofficial and are not recognized by the unions. Is the population to be left without any means of getting about? It certainly will be, if you have a large-scale strike in the London area. Unless there are plenty of motorists, I do not see what the general mass of the population is going to do.

From a purely Party point of view, I could wish nothing better than that the Government should persist in this abolition of the basic petrol ration for as long as possible, for I am certain that few things the Government have done have been a greater psychological mistake. But I do not want to regard the matter from that point of view. I wish to make an appeal to His Majesty's Government. I think that the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, was a little sympathetic in the earlier part of his argument, and I want to appeal to the Government to keep this question, as Lord Balfour of Inchrye has suggested, continuously under review. Do give us a little hope. Do try to find us a bit of blue sky somewhere, so that we can look up at it and feel encouraged. At present, all we have to look forward to is the prospect that, however hard we work, however diligently the country puts its back into it at the behest of the Government, we are still going to be £270,000,000 on the wrong side next year. I believe that if you can give the people a little incentive it will be worth millions to you—millions which will never show on any balance sheet.

Finally, to quote William Pitt on April 11, 1840: The experience of the last summer and the discussions of this Session confirm me in the opinion that while the Government remains in its present shape and under its present leader, nothing efficient can be expected either to originate with them or to be fairly adopted and efficiently executed. I wonder what he would say to-day.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, rising at this rather late moment to address your Lordships, after listening to so many very brilliant speeches on the subject of the abolition of the basic petrol ration, I really feel rather incompetent. I would like, however, to make sure about one point before I go any further. In common with other noble Lords who have spoken, I fully accept the necessity for some cut in regard to dollar-consuming petrol, but, quite obviously, I do not agree with the 100 per cent. cut. It is not on the principle of the thing that I am in any way at variance with His Majesty's Government, but I do differ from them with regard to the extent of the cut and the way in which it has been carried out. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that they have not tried very hard. Let us consider, for a moment, events which have taken place since the matter was first mooted, right up to the present moment of this debate in your Lordships' House.

We were told in July that this terrible crisis was fast falling upon us, and towards the end of the month the word "crisis" had become part and parcel of our daily speech. Then the Prime Minister went to the microphone and an apprehensive nation sat around its Lord speakers to hear, if I may so describe them, a lot of none too clear statements and exhortations. But about one thing there was a definite statement and that was that basic petrol was to be cut by one-third. Well, we understood what was going to happen, and the idea of this cut was, of course, accepted. However, three weeks later—I think I am correct in saying that it was three weeks later—we had this other announcement, and there has been no explanation of it. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has remarked, Ministers flew about all over the place in aeroplanes, but we still have not heard what happened during those three weeks. Because we have not heard what happened during those three weeks, not unnaturally the country has lost a great deal of confidence in its leaders.

Your Lordships, I am certain, need no reminders from me as to the many fine attributes of the British citizen, but I am sure it will be generally acknowledged that, above all, he is patriotic, that he is far from being a fool and is endowed with plenty of good sound common sense. I think that nothing in the world is more likely to lead to the loss of his good will than if he is made to think that he is being treated like a fool. And that is what a great number of the citizens of this country do think, because of the way in which this matter has been handled. To my mind, they have great justification for so thinking. So far as the abolition of the basic petrol ration and its immediate effect are concerned, is not the picture really rather the simple one of a nation the wheels of whose transport are already creaking, deliberately throwing away one of its facilities in the realm of transportation, and sitting down to listen to the other wheels creaking even more loudly? This sort of thing is regarded by the citizens as being crazy.

Now the attitude of the citizen towards this comes of a firm belief that when a Government do anything and when they make a curious statement they must explain it. I contend that right up to this moment we have not had a proper explanation. The first attempt at any explanation was made some time ago by the then Minister of Fuel and Power, who said the matter was quite simple; it was just a question of whether you bought food or petrol. In so doing he was picturing, for the benefit of his hearers, pleasure-seeking, greedy motorists roaring about in their cars in the face of a hungry proletariat struggling for existence. Some of his hearers may have thought it a very nice speech, regarded as a piece of oratory; but if I may say so, it does not bear very close scrutiny. I searched Hansard after the debate which took place in the other place in the hope of finding an explanation, but I am sorry to say I failed to find one there. The Minister seems to have spent quite a while and to have been at great pains to prove that a cut in petrol was necessary. But we all know that. I consider that he gave further proof in support of one's contention that experts had not been consulted—neither the Petroleum Board, of which other noble Lords have spoken to-day, nor, at that time, any of the motoring organizations. I am very glad, however, having been at pains to help with the amassing of about the greatest petition Parliament has seen for years, that those organizations have now been granted some slight hearing.

Now I would like to touch for a moment on the question of the black market. It is not a savoury subject and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has already referred to it in a brilliant speech. The manner in which Lord Lucas referred to it made a deeper impression on my mind than, I think, any other matter that I have listened to during this debate. I see that in another place, in the debate last week, the Minister of Fuel and Power rather denied that the existence of the black market had had any effect upon this measure. About that there are two points. I strongly suspect that the Ministers when considering a petrol cut, even if they did not admit it to one another, had in their minds the idea that this was a good way of cleaning up the black market. I would not blame them if that were so. On the other hand. I wonder why they never thought that that was the first thing to do, because then they would not have had to make a cut. I felt I should mention that having heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, say in his speech that the leakage from the commercial issue of petrol into petrol tins which, shall we say, are not commercial, is enormous. I have no doubt it would be exceedingly difficult to get any figures, because one presumes that statisticians employed in that dark industry do not render their weekly returns to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, but if we could even guess the figures of that leakage they would have a profound effect on the Ministers.

I see that other methods of controlling the issue of fuel were discussed in another place and perhaps it is worth my while mentioning the question of dyeing petrol. I have often wondered why that was not possible. It seems so simple to dye one blend of petrol and not another, thus instantly disclosing the "spiv" or whoever it may be who has obtained the petrol in the wrong manner; but I am assured by one who is competent to speak that it is not a practical solution. I mention that in passing because a great number of people think that use of dye in petrol is a solution.

One's feeling in general is that the methods of dealing with this situation have been crude and the matter has been rushed. The reaction has been rather like that of a man who throws a line overboard to a drowning pal and forgets to hold on to the other end himself. I wonder if it would be possible for the Cabinet, instead of keeping this error in front of them, as has been expressed as a fervent wish to-day, to reconsider the matter? I wonder if they have completely shut the door, because if so I fear that chaos in transportation is on us and, worse than that, a complete breakdown in morale.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to press the Government to reconsider this problem. I would like to point out that most of our magistrates' courts are to be working overtime in the course of a few months. Our police forces, who are at present under-manned, are going to have the job of doing something they do not like to do—snooping, rounding up people to see if they have not diverted in any way from the narrow pathway they have promised to follow in order to get their coupons. I would much rather that the police were catching thieves than making criminals. I sat on the bench when we were on the supplementary ration in the old days and I remember the case of a doctor who, going home after having a hard time helping to bring a child into the world, suddenly bethought that there was a football match only one hundred and forty yards outside his proper pathway. He had to be fined.

There is no doubt the Government or the Ministry of Fuel and Power or somebody have made a first-class mistake. They did some quick-change thinking during the month of August instead of going on their holidays. They told us to get our basic rations for six months and then soon afterwards said we could only use them for September. Then they told us we could apply for supplementary rations, and the booklet which was going to last us until the end of February was no good and a waste of paper. Altogether it appeared to me as a layman that the Ministry of Fuel and Power could have scientifically readjusted the saving which has to be made in petrol so that, instead of giving us a gallon and a half, they could give us an adjusted amount and let us do as we liked with it when we got it instead of having police running us in. Instead of that they have been most generous with the allowances. It is a miracle how the divisional officers have got through the job. It is true that 251 extra civil servants have had to be used and everybody has had to work overtime, and even civil servants are entitled to be paid if they do a lot of extra work. We have to take this supplementary until February 29: it is Hobson's choice. I appeal to the Government to place us on our honour with the supplementary coupons we have received, instead of leaving us with the fear of being run in. Let us use them, and if we misuse them we shall be short of petrol, that is all.

In any case I would appeal to the Minister of Fuel and Power that, at any rate a week before Christmas, he should tell us that there will be no restrictions on the running of private cars. I have a vested interest in this because I want to bring my family and my babies they are not mine, they are in the third degree—to have the bit of bread and cheese or whatever it is and be cheerful and enjoy Christmas. May I make this personal appeal to Mr. Gaitskell who has to use that old-fashioned tub when he goes down to Winchester. Let Mr. Gaitskell tell us that he will put us on our honour in using that petrol, even if it is going out of his way, in order to see that we shall have a jolly good Christmas. We shall all have a better Christmas if we can do that. I want to tell the Lord Chancellor that we magistrates are going to be working overtime on an unsavoury job; and we do not want to do it. The Minister of Fuel and Power is going to compel the police to do jobs which they do not want to do. At the same time Mr. Gaitskell's own house will be unprotected. I do not wish him any harm but … Seriously, my Lords, I do ask for a reconsideration of this matter. I agree that we cannot have the basic back before the 29th, but let us use it as we like, and if we use it up we shall have to stop driving our cars.

There is one other point, which has reference to the black market business. I wish the Minister of Fuel and Power would consult the Regional Directors, or whatever they call the men in charge of the Ministry of Transport. We have one in Yorkshire and there is another in Lancashire. One of these men told me definitely that that is where the black market is. He said that Pickfords do not allow any of their drivers to touch a coupon. The driver gets what petrol he requires, and signs a chit for it, which Pickfords honour. Certainly the Ministry of Fuel and Power, through the Ministry of Transport, have been inundating the commercial users with petrol coupons. A man told me the other day: "I will get you 100 petrol coupons." He was a reputable man, the head of a big firm of motor car distributors. That is how it goes on. It has got to stop, and the way to stop it is for Transport and Fuel and Power to come together. After all, the incentive we have here is not the pay we receive in this House, and we should have an additional incentive if we could just have for three or four weeks the use of the coupons for our wives and families without the knowledge that we may be run in.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye in this Motion. I am also one of those who realize that a cut has to be made, but I do not think it should be a 100 per cent. cut. At this time of the evening I will be very brief, and just touch on two points. If I understood the Lord Chancellor aright, the figures he gave were that the sterling area for the last year got 5,600,000 tons, and Great Britain got 4,550,000 tons.


That is not quite right. The estimated consumption in 1948 in the sterling area is 5,600,000 tons, and the United Kingdom consumption 3,800,000 tons.


I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. I have that figure here, and I was just going to make that point. My point is a simple one. The sterling area has not been cut at all, and this country has been cut from 4,550,000 to 3,800,000. Is that justice? In all these figures which the Lord Chancellor gave us, he omitted one very important figure. I can see why he had to do that, which was because it would not have helped the Government's case at all. What he did not tell us was the total amount of dollars that would be spent on all petroleum products, including furnace oil, in the coming year as compared with last year. I think he will find that the saving of 900,000 tons in commercial motor fuel will not show much saving in dollars. What has happened is that with that dismal mismanagement of the coal situation last year there was a panic switch from coal to oil for industry, and that has got to be imported. I am certain there will be a great increase in that type of oil, and the actual saving in dollars will not be there. I see the Lord Chancellor looks a bi[...] puzzled. What I am trying to say is this. Up to now we have spent, say, x million dollars on petroleum products. This coming year, although we are saving 900,000 tons, we are still paying x dollars—not x plus y or x minus y.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I can assure him that I do not leave out figures because; they do not fit in with the case. I try to give the House all the relevant figures. If you are using a larger quantity of fuel oil—and I have no knowledge of the fact—what bearing has that on the question of petrol?


The bearing it has on the case is that petrol is a product of that oil in a more refined state. If there had not been mismanagement of the coal situation we should not have been forced into having to get this extra primary oil product. I will not take up more time, but I do wish to support my noble friend in his Motion.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I want to take up only a very few minutes. I have been playing my usual game of scratching out what I was going to say as other people mentioned it. There are, however, two serious points which I have not scratched out. The first is in relation to the ultra-conscientious people—and there are plenty of them in this country—who used their basic ration, in the days when it existed, for purposes for which they would have been justified in demanding a supplementary ration. Those people to-day are left high and dry, for they never asked for a supplementary ration. The Petroleum Board people can say to them: "Well, you managed without petrol for this purpose before, so why should you have it now?" These people do deserve, and ought to receive very special consideration.

There is another point rather on the same lines. That concerns the owner of the new car who has paid a very high rate of purchase tax, and has paid recently on the assumption that he was going to pay a very much lower rate of revenue tax next year. That is all very well. You have got the money out of him in advance for taxation on a car which you are not now going to allow him to use. Is that quite playing the game? That, I think, is another very powerful argument for reconsideration of the question, to see whether there is not some alternative to the absolute abolition of the basic ration. There is one final batch of people—and there are a considerable number of them—who are demanding a reconsideration of this matter. They are the people to whom the Government are making an appeal for extra work and extra effort—the farmers' wives. They have not yet been mentioned. The farmer's wife has to "pinch" the farmer's car (when he does not want it for other purposes) to go into the local village or town to do her shopping. If she is on the telephone it is not a bit of good telephoning to the shop and ordering the goods. The shopkeepers pay no attention to telephone orders in the country to-day, and they do not deliver at all in a great many places in the country. She cannot go to the market with the farmer when he goes, because she cannot spend the whole day away from her home and the farmer does not want to come back when she has finished her shopping as he has certainly not finished his job. Those people are demanding reconsideration of this matter.

Every farmer cannot do as I have been able to do, buy a donkey and a cart. I am not going to be tied down to sitting in the house when I cannot produce a legitimate excuse to remove the car from the front door. I want to go and see my friends and go to my club. I found great difficulty in finding a cart to match the donkey. You cannot expect the farmer to use a cow for this purpose. The only alternative is to give the farmer's wife a ration of petrol. I think that a small basic ration is really necessary. I would be prepared to accept even one-third of what we had before, a half-gallon where before one and a half gallons were given. I believe that if you issued that and cut the motor coach business, which might well be cut, it would be more reasonable. Why should enormous numbers of motor coaches go out from Birmingham, Manchester, Rochdale and Bradford every Saturday, miles across the countryside, carrying people to watch their football team play, when the poor wretched person in the country may not go two or three miles in his own car to the cinema? It does not add up; it does not make sense.

A year ago I was given an interesting little booklet entitled: What the Socialist Government has done for the worker. I looked inside and I found four virgin leaves of paper. If anybody had troubled to keep tally since that year they would have been able to put in quite a lot. Bread rationing would have been one of the things, although I think the abolition of the basic petrol ration would have been included in the biggest print.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, in asking leave to withdraw my Motion there are only a few sentences I would like to say. First of all, I would like to thank the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and other members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in what I hope has been a useful debate. Secondly, I wonder whether, for the sake of record, I may correct a misstatement that I made. The noble and learned Viscount looked somewhat dubious when I mentioned the sterling area production of oil as being 18,000,000 to 20,000,000 tons. I meant 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 tons. I think the debate has been useful because, summarizing it, we have had an assurance that the matter is being kept under constant review and has not been shelved until a positive date when it can come up for consideration. We have heard that there is an appeals machinery—I think, for the first time in this House—which will allow those who feel that their applications have been unjustly turned down to have redress against the local petroleum officer.

I have only one request to make to the noble and learned Viscount, and I shall feel satisfied, although not completely, with the debate, within the compass of regretting the necessity for the abolition. On all sides of the House there have been stressed the difficulties and needs of the rural agricultural community. It has been generally acknowledged that the strict administration of the divisional officer, on the rules that have been laid down, may be harsh for one man as against another. One man may be able to present a better case on paper when he really has less merit than another person. I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount this: Would the Government consider, in the light of this debate and other representations that they have received, having a special instruction issued to divisional officers who are responsible for administering the applications of rural agricultural workers? The purpose of the instruction I suggest would be to draw the attention of the urban official to the problems of agricultural life, and instructing him to look at all these applications in a sympathetic manner, and if possible to give the benefit of the doubt always to the applicant rather than to the official.


The noble Lord cannot expect me to give a complete answer to his question. All I can say is that I will certainly convey the noble Lord's request to the Minister. I quite understand that there would be a danger if a person who was too urban-minded were to deal with rural questions. May I just add this? We do not contemplate that a new appeals machinery should be set up, because there has always been machinery in existence and that will be the machinery to operate.


I thank the noble and learned Viscount for that reply. Frankly, I was not aware of the appeals machinery and neither I think were other noble Lords. Having thanked the noble and learned Viscount, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, I also want to thank the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, for his interesting speech and to apologize to him for having raised such a difficult subject. I think the correct procedure is that I do not proceed with my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.