HL Deb 17 June 1968 vol 293 cc319-20

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they have decided to allow unrestricted ownership of petrol stations by oil companies, contrary to the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission and the Government's previous decision.]


My Lords, the formula recommended by the Monopolies Commission for limiting ownership of petrol stations was, from the outset, considered to be liable to have too restrictive an effect on new entrants to the United Kingdom market. In the recent review of the voluntary undertakings given by the oil companies to my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, it was concluded that the annual sales volume at which the limit on company ownership came into operation (even though it had been set at 50 million gallons as compared with the 10 million gallons which the Commission had originally recommended) was still very much too low in relation to the scale of current refinery projects.

While this point might have been met by a substantial rise in the ceiling, the problem remained of devising a formula which was not otherwise arbitrary and discriminatory in its effect on particular companies. It proved impracticable to devise any formula which was not open to considerable objection on those grounds.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his Answer, may I ask whether, in view of the fact that the situation to which we have now reverted was regarded by the Monopolies Commission as against the public interest, it would not be better to change the limitations and devise a new formula, particularly since there are a number of people who think that a formula, possibly not a perfect one but a perfectly workable one, at a higher level could be applied?


My Lords, I find myself in a little difficulty on this matter. A reasonable answer to the noble Lord's supplementary question would involve going into all the very many varied factors which have had to be taken into consideration on this matter. I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord if he would be prepared to address a series of questions to me in writing, to which I should be pleased to reply, or else to raise this matter as an Unstarred Question, when there will be a reasonable opportunity to give a measured response.