HL Deb 03 December 1973 vol 347 cc316-33

2.50 p.m.

Brought from the Commons on Friday last, and printed (pursuant to Standing Order No. 48); read 1ª.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution):


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a short enabling Bill to give the Secretary of State temporary powers to control the production, supply, acquisition and use of petroleum and any substance derived from it, and of any other substance used as fuel; and similarly to control the production, supply and use of electricity. The Bill also implements E.E.C. Directive 73/238 of July 24, which requires Member States in the event of difficulties arising in the supply of crude oil and petroleum products to provide the competent authorities with the necessary powers to restrict consumption, to allocate supplies, to regulate and to draw on emergency stocks. There will be no disagreement in this House, I am sure, that it is wise to take powers of this sort, both to deal with the current situation and to have on the Statute Book powers which can be revived temporarily to deal with any similar difficulties that may arise in the future, subject always to Parliamentary control.

In the last few weeks the energy situation has changed radically. We can no longer count on plentiful supplies of oil. Still less can we expect cheap supplies. These changes have serious implications for our economy, for our balance of payments, for our way of life and for our security. It is impossible to foresee at all clearly how these changes will affect us in the longer term or even in the immediate future. To safeguard our position in the longer term the Government have taken steps for the rapid development of North Sea oil; for the development of natural gas; and for the reconstruction of the coal industry. Our studies for the future of nuclear power are still well advanced. Some years must inevitably pass before we can rely on our own resources to meet our needs of energy. Even then there will remain the possibility of our supplies being disrupted by industrial action, as is now happening. It is, therefore, sensible for us to have such powers in reserve for speedy action, if need be.

On the need to deal with the immediate future, nobody is likely to disagree. The industrial action of the N.U.M. and of the Electrical Power Engineers Associations, together with the uncertainty about our oil supplies, have combined to put three of the four source of energy for consumers in growing jeopardy. So far we have relied upon the Emergency Powers. But these are of short duration. They are not appropriate for a situation which may continue for some time. Under these powers we have already taken such action as is immediately necessary. We have placed restrictions on the use of electricity. We have reduced oil deliveries to 90 per cent. of what they were a year ago, except for public transport. We have put a ban on the purchase of petrol in cans for hoarding, while allowing those who normally get their petrol in cans to do so. We have also started to issue petrol rationing coupons so as to reduce the time needed for putting petrol rationing into operation if and when it becomes necessary. But we have not yet made any decision to introduce petrol rationing. We have published advertisements to explain how the public can collect their coupons. The scheme is simple and flexible. The value of the coupons in terms of petrol has not yet been determined. The scheme covers not only basic needs but a wide range of special needs—domestic and business. If rationing were introduced, everyone would be expected to accept some inconvenience. But the scheme will protect such people as disabled drivers from severe hardship, and it will safeguard services essential to the life of the community.

May I now outline the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the substances to which the Bill applies; that is, petroleum (which is defined in Clause 8), any substance derived from petroleum, any substances used as fuel, and electricity. Thus the controls provided by the Bill extend to petroleum, coal, gas and electricity, and also to non-fuel petroleum products such as lubricating oil, naptha and petrochemical feedstocks.

Clause 2 provides that the Secretary of State may make Orders regulating or prohibiting the production, supply, acquisition or use of any substances to which the Bill applies. This power would provide not only the statutory basis for motor fuel rationing, but also the means to control other fuels, including electricity, whether for industry, commercial or domestic use. The Secretary of State may also give directions to producers of the various fuels and petroleum products as to their production and use. Such directives may prohibit or restrict the use of any material required for their production. In this way we should be able to secure the most effective use of the raw materials available. Directions may also be given to suppliers for the purpose of regulating the supply of any fuel or petroleum product. Directions could specify the persons whom the supplier should or should not supply. Under the Emergency Powers, directions have already been given to suppliers, restricting deliveries of petroleum products; these directions could be given afresh under the Bill once it has received the Royal Assent. Directions may also be given to persons carrying on a business with regard to the use that they may make of any fuel or petroleum product covered by the Bill. These powers could, for instance, enable conservation by business consumers to be enforced. Power is also given to regulate the prices of petroleum and substances derived from petroleum. This provision provides a more flexible and effective means of controlling oil prices in a scarcity situation than would be possible under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973. The Government see no need to take similar powers to control the uses of other fuels, since they can be adequately controlled under the counter-inflation powers.

Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to require any undertaking or class of undertaking to keep records and furnish information relating to the substances covered by the Bill. Clause 4 empowers the Secretary of State to authorise any person who supplies or uses fuel or petroleum products to infringe any relevant statutory or contractual obligation while acting in accordance with authorities granted by him; for example, by reducing temperature in working premises below the statutory minimum level. Suppliers of fuel could also be relieved of the requirement to meet quality standards if that would enable production to be increased. Alternatively there is a more general power enabling an Order in Council to be made to modify the provisions of any enactment which directly or indirectly affects the supply or use of fuels. Subsection (2) enables authority to be given to particular operators to relax certain statutory provisions relating to the operation of public service vehicles, so as to enable the most effective use to be made of the vehicles and crews available. The relaxations would also have the effect of legalising cost-sharing or farepaying in private vehicles. Subsection (3) permits existing legislation to be modified in so far as it directly or indirectly affects the supply or use of substances to which the Bill applies—for example, national speed limits could be reduced to conserve petrol. Subsection (4) provides for an Order in Council to be made modifying an order made under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973; the object being to enable the price of any petroleum product to be controlled under this Bill rather than under the Price and Pay Code.

Clause 5 applies for the purposes of this Bill certain provisions of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactment and Repeals) Act 1964 which are necessary to supplement the powers in the Bill itself. These make orders subject to the Negative Resolution procedure and allow orders and directions to be varied or revoked. They also deal with procedures for notices authorisations or documents; the territorial extent of the Bill; offences involving false documents or false statements; restrictions on the disclosure of information; and offences by corporations. Powers are also given for duly authorised officers to obtain documents relating to compliance with orders made under the Bill, if necessary by obtaining a search warrant. These provisions are necessary for the enforcement of any controls on fuels that may be imposed, for instance, rationing of petrol.

Clause 6 deals with penalties for contraventions of any legal requirements imposed under the Bill, or for obstructing anyone in the exercise of powers or duties in this connection. Attempts and con- spiracies to commit such offences are also covered. For example, petrol rationing would in all probability give rise to attempts or conspiracies to commit offences, as distinct from the actual commitment of offences. Persons guilty of an offence under the Bill would be liable on summary conviction to three months' imprisonment or a fine of £400 or both.

Clause 10 limits the duration of the Bill to November 30, 1974, but provides for its provisions to be extended, by Order in Council, at any time when they are in force for a period not exceeding one year. They could also be reactivated after they had expired. The powers it confers would, therefore, be readily available at short notice if they were needed at any future time. Extension or reactivation of the powers would need to be approved by Parliament before the end of 28 days. Finally, Clause 11 extends the Bill to Northern Ireland. Any necessary restrictions on fuel in Northern Ireland would be administered by the Ministry of Commerce, on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry.

My Lords, these are the provisions that the Government think necessary to enable us to make the best use of such sources of energy as may be available to us in times of scarcity. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that they are sensible weapons to have in our armoury, now and in the future, to deal with temporary energy difficulties. As to their uses, nobody can foretell how far they will be needed. As to their misuse, both Parliament and people will be vigilant and resolute to ensure that they will be taken out of the armoury and used only when strictly necessary for the wellbeing of the nation, and that they are put back into the armoury and the key returned to Parliament as soon as possible. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.——(Lord Drumalbyn.)

3 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for explaining this Bill, although we disagree most intensely with part of his speech. We find it reprehensible that, when your Lordships' House is being asked to agree to a certain measure to defend our oil and petrol supplies, the Government should take advantage of the occasion to wage an attack on the miners of this country. If I may put it politely but bluntly, it is a little disgraceful that someone like the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, should have accepted a brief of this kind to read to your Lordships' House. All the Miners' Union of this country has decided to do—whether one agrees or disagrees with it—is to work their normal week's work; what the Minister is saying is that they will not work overtime to suit the purpose of the Government. There may be an argument about that, but to call in aid this particular item in promoting this Bill is going too far. I said that we were grateful to the Minister for explaining this Bill, but I would not withdraw one word of what I have just said.

When a country gets into a difficulty of this kind not imposed by the miners of this country but by those who control oil in the Middle East, then obviously the Government have to take action to preserve the rights of our industry and people, so far as that is humanly possible; so I would not, nor would my noble friends, dissent from the decision of the Government. However, there are one or two matters that we should like to raise on this particular Bill. Conditions now exist where workers are working in both the dark and cold, and if the Minister has any doubt about that let him read the Report of another place with regard to what was happening last week in that particular Assembly. If in fact we want people to work, at least let us provide them with a little heat and light in which to do their job. I do not want the situation to be exaggerated. While we all agree that precautions should be taken, do not let us over-exaggerate the position that our country is in at the present moment.

The Minister says—and I find this a little difficult to understand—that the Government have taken action to prevent rather selfish people from filling up cans at petrol stations and taking petrol away with them. He has the wholehearted, 100 per cent. agreement of this side of your Lordships' House in that. This is a form of private enterprise with which we thoroughly disagree. May I turn to one other point mentioned by the noble Lord when he said that we were getting into difficulty? One of the matters that your Lordships' House will find it difficult to understand is that the Minister in another place, when being asked to press the case for the rationing of petrol, said that there was no threat to our oil supplies. Only last week, after the meeting with the distinguished sheikh from the Middle East, he was saying that our supplies had been assured. It is difficult to accept the statement that our oil supply has been assured and then be asked to pass a Bill to deal with deficiencies. What is the real position? If in fact a decision had been made to cut supplies of oil to this country, not only would this House understand and face up to it, but so would the people of this country. If we have to ask the people to take action to meet this situation, they will do it better if they understand the reason for it. The Minister, in winding up, had better tell us the difference between what he has said to-day and what the Minister was saying in another place last week.

May I also ask him whether action can be taken about the position between garages throughout the country and their suppliers? Apparently at the present time there is some doubt as to what in fact the central suppliers are going to supply to the local garages. Nearly all of us in this country depend on collecting our supplies through the local garages; if they know what they are going to receive, they can ration it out in a sensible way. What was happening last Friday and Saturday in this country was that they were not rationing to a gallonage but to a pound's worth of petrol. We all understand that. What we cannot understand is the Government saying that there is no danger of rationing and then the garages needing to take unilateral action. What is the decision of the Government? Do the Government think that rationing will have to be introduced, or are they simply going to allow every retailer to make a plan of his own?

The Minister spoke at the conclusion of his introduction of difficulty about the expectations with regard to price. It is true that we have seen very wide fluctuations in the price of oil. Indeed, last weekend it was said that oil was being bought at something like 18 dollars a barrel. One can only think that if the world price went up to that level, there would not be any motor manufacturers in this country because nobody could afford to run a car. With that in mind, we are entitled to know from the Government to what figure the price is expected to rise. If the price is going to rise, would the Government take into consideration that the tax on a gallon of petrol is enormous? It is getting nearly into the whisky range, and that is bad enough. Instead of putting up the price, would the Government consider, for a change, cutting the tax in order to keep the price down? I merely put that forward as an idea. It may not work—I do not know—but it is one of the ideas that the Government had better consider.

While we raise no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill, we say quite firmly and sincerely to the Government, "Do not come back again asking for these powers and seeking to put the blame on the miners and the electrical engineers of this country; put it on the shoulders of the sheikhs who have imposed this decision upon us."

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for being about to ask him a number of questions of which I have not given notice. This is partly because, as he knows and through no fault of his own, this Bill has been very rushed and we have had only a short time to look at it. Indeed, although we had already started to do our homework, we received the Bill formally in this House only this morning. I regret to say that since then the noble Lord's telephone has been engaged all morning, proving that a Ministry, even without portfolio, is extremely busy. I shall understand completely if the noble Lord is not able to answer immediately all the questions I shall be asking, though a number of them are questions for which we would expect the Government to have fairly full answers already worked out.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, while regretting the necessity for this Bill, we support it. Only the Government can decide whether petrol rationing is going to be necessary; it is one of those difficult judgments that Governments are required to make. As has been pointed out, in any system short of actual rationing there are considerable unfairnesses and inconveniences in attempts to cut down the allocation of petrol in this country. These problems have already been felt. If we should require petrol rationing, it would be a pity to have gone through a period of time when these unfairnesses, and the advantages which are taken of them by some unscrupulous people, can take place. That is not to say that even under rationing there will not be some loopholes which ought to be stopped. At a recent social function a friend of mine was shocked when one or two of the people present who were involved in industry said that they were not worried about petrol rationing because all they had to do was to buy a few motor cars, draw the petrol ration for them, and then sell the cars when rationing was over and write down the loss to the firm. This is something that the Government will be trying to stop, and I hope that they succeed. But far worse things are happening if we go on with a period of shortage without rationing. What I should really like to know is how much of the essential cost of introducing a rationing system has already been committed by the issuing of ration books. Is it, in fact, a fairly large percentage, so that the actual introduction of rationing would not mean a great deal more expense?

The next question that I should like to ask really relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, was asking. I agree very largely with his speech on the subject of the miners. To return to a point that I was making on a Statement just recently, our view on these Benches is that Stage 3 is fundamentally misconceived; that it should have been a much tighter stage of control, but that there should have been a quite definite and broader loophole than the ones that exist one broader loophole to deal with special cases. The fact remains that since the oil embargo there is a very special case for the miners and the whole mining industry, on a long-term as well as on a short-term basis. We are not now talking about something that could airily be called "blackmail"; we are talking about what has to be paid in terms of wages in the mining industry in order to retain the work force that this country needs. I would ask the noble Lord whether the suggestion made on the front page of the New Statesman last week, that Clause 4 of this Bill would, in fact, enable the Government to exempt the mining industry from Stage 3, is true. If it is true, would they not look at the subject again not, as I say, as a matter of trying to find a loophole through Stage 3 in a general manner, but because quite generally the whole situation with regard to fuel supply has changed?

While I am on the subject, may I make a small remark on the question of whether the miners are in any way breaking the law? Of course they are not. I think it is worth making the point that as soon as this particular crisis is over the Government must look at the whole problem of the structure of industry and the place of overtime in it. It is totally ridiculous that merely by banning overtime workers should be able to bring an industry to a halt, or slow it down. The whole subject should be looked at again, and this should have been done by any Government—it should have been done over a period of time, at any time since the war.

I would join the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, in asking about the future of oil prices. He has asked that question fully, and I will not therefore add to it, except possibly to ask a question about future oil reserves. In addition to the matter of prices, I think we are entitled to know whether the Government have plans to create large stategic reserves in future, granted that we may be moving into a period—we certainly are moving into a period—where energy is getting to be a real problem. We may be moving into a period where the oil supply will be used more and more as a weapon in foreign affairs.

Returning to the Bill, I should like to ask about the Government's attitude to the problems of rural transport. I know they are aware—they have already said so—that the whole pattern of life in the countryside has changed since the last time petrol rationing was brought in, but we have not yet, I think, had any plans or any signs that they propose to do anything very much about it. We all know now that country villages are much more dependent on private transport than they were before; much more dependent than are the people who are living in the towns and suburbs. We are entitled to ask what will be done to help people living in the remote countryside?

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, put forward a healthy and fairly full defence of the idea that this Bill, unlike others before it, is going to be put into cold storage; and that in future, if the Government want to exercise these powers, they can do so at any time by an Order in Council, although it has to come to Parliament within 28 days. I wonder whether that is necessary. It is an attitude, I think, of turning to emergency legislation which is to be deplored in general, and I should have thought that, the noble Lord would have had to make out a much better case for it than even he has been able to do. We on these Benches remain opposed to that particular provision. I would also ask whether under this Bill imprisonment is really necessary as a penalty. It is a question which I have not investigated deeply, but I think that whenever the penalty of imprisonment is provided in a Bill like this, it is, in fact, up to the Government to explain exactly why. We know that our prisons are too full, and that prison is not necessarily the best way of dealing with this kind of offence.

That, my Lords, is really the end of my detailed questions about the Bill. To sum up, I think it is quite clear that while a large part of this crisis is not the fault of the Government, a certain amount of it is. If they had devised a better Stage 3, if they had had better policies in the first half of their period of office so far, we should not be in the kind of mess we are in now. Although we have to support the Bill we do not like it and we are not happy or grateful about it. We do not wish to have to show the Dunkirk spirit, although we are prepared to do so if we have to. We do not want to say, as a Dickens character, O, let us love our occupations, Bless the squire and his relations, Live upon our daily rations And always know our proper stations. We went better than that in future. But that really is another story, and I hope it is one that my noble friend Lord Avebury will be taking up in the debate on energy which we shall be holding in this House on Wednesday. In the meantime, my Lords, reluctantly we support this Bill.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, as one would expect, he made out a case for the mineworkers to show that they are not breaking the law. Of course, we all agree with him. But I thought it less than fair to my noble friend when he implied that what the miners were doing had no real effect on the present crisis. I bet to differ from him.


My Lords, I did not say anything of the kind to the noble Lord, who is a very good friend of mine. What I was saying was that the Government should not use the miners' strike, or the work-to-rule, as an excuse for the denial of oil supplies to this country by the sheikhs of the Middle East.


My Lords, I go along with the noble Lord, but I said that I thought he implied it: I did not say that he said it. But I will not quibble over a few words. The fact is that a great many of our generating stations, currently being run on oil, are capable of being switched over to solid fuels. If they cannot take advantage of that, then it has a bearing on the whole matter that we are discussing. That is the point I want to make.

But I should like to have a broader statement from my noble friend on how far the situation takes us. When one hears of ships meeting bunkering difficulties abroad, speeds having to be reduced two or three knots, in time this can be cumulative and will affect the delivery of our exports. There are many problems of that nature about which I think the House should be told. I am a director of a small air freight company. We do not carry passengers at all. Every ounce of cargo that we take out of this country is an export. Our supplies have been cut. It seems that the freight companies have been put in the same category as the charter companies carrying holiday makers to Spain and elsewhere. That is the kind of thing that I think ought to be looked into by the Government. Why is it that some filling stations are shorter of fuel than others? Is my noble friend satisfied that distribution is all that it should be? I have even heard it suggested that the privately-owned filling station is having a worse deal than those owned by the oil companies. This happened in America last year. where the small man was being squeezed out at the expense of the large oil companies' garages. I should like an assurance on that point from my noble friend.

I think that when the country is told frankly what is expected of it the British people usually respond. I was impressed, late last night coming up from the country, by the discipline of drivers. Over a distance of 30 or 40 miles I did not see one driver travelling at over 50 m.p.h. It was steady, orderly trallic. I believe that in this whole unfortunate business we have to tell the people very frankly, almost daily, where they stand. They want the facts, and I believe that if my noble friend will put the facts before the nation he will get a response from them.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, the House is obviously disposed to accept this Bill, and I am grateful for that. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, said but I am not sure that he is really on very good ground if he thinks that the miners' restriction (or whatever you like to call it) on overtime, their unwillingness to work overtime, is having no effect on our supplies. If they are having an effect, then of course it is all part of the same picture.


The noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so, must not say that. I did not say anything of the kind; and the noble Lord must not get out of his own argument by trying to accuse me of making one that I never made. What I said was that the decision not to export oil to this counry and to the countries of the E.E.C. was made by the sheikhs in the Arabian States, not by the miners of this country. If the noble Lord wants to come to this House and to the nation and ask us to take measures to deal with this situation, all I am saying to him—and in case he did not understand, let me repeat it—was: do not let him seek to put the blame on the miners of this country.


My Lords, I was very careful not to put the blame on the miners of this country. I mentioned the National Union of Mineworkers' action and the E.E.P.A.'s action, and combined that with the anxieties about the oil situation—and it is a fact that all these are combined. The noble Lord must give due weight to the fact that to quite a considerable extent the various sources of fuel are interchangeable.


My Lords, I did not say anything other than that.


If that is so, my Lords, any shortage of coal at any given time is going to bear on the availability of oil. For example, the consumption of fuel oil in the power stations is of course closely related to coal burn. I am advised that if the two generating systems had been able to receive uninterrupted coal supplies throughout the winter—that is, from October 1 to March 31 next—the saving in fuel oil as compared with last winter's use would have been of the order of 41 million tons.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is going a little too far, if I may say so. If he wants to argue Phase 3 of the Government's programme, let him do so in that context; but I would advise him not to use the debate on this Bill for that purpose. Perhaps he does not want to get this Bill through. I do not know—it is for the noble Lord to make up his own mind. But to use a debate on Phase 3 of the Government's economic policy to justify this particular Bill is, I think, going a little too far.


My Lords, I am trying to convey to the noble Lord that fuels are interchangeable, that they are all interlocking, and that it is the general situation that we have to look at. It is a fact that the output of coal in the last fortnight or so has been between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. below the normal level. This is a very serious consideration which we have to take into account, and I did not do more than say that this was part of the general situation. I certainly made no attack whatsoever: I merely pointed to the realities of the situation and then sought to draw the conclusions of the action that we must take in accordance with those realities.

My Lords, the noble Lord asked me how garages can know what they are going to get, which is a very fair question. Of course, the general reduction of 10 per cent. in supplies applies all round, to everyone. It may be—and this is possibly also in part the answer to my noble friend—that in the past some garages, perhaps the smaller garages, have been getting supplies from some zone other than their normal supplier. I do not know, but I am told that that sometimes happens. But when one is restricted to 10 per cent. less than one's normal supplies, it may well be that there is a greater drain on some garages than on others. This is a situation which is very difficult to control by the very nature of the distribution industry. One sees at many garages at the present time notices saying, "Regular customers only, please." But this is of course something that cannot be wholly adhered to because, no matter how regular customers are, they do not always buy all their oil supplies from the same garage. So this is a difficult problem. I recognise that it is difficult, but it is in order that everyone should get a fair supply that drivers must cut down by 10 per cent. on what they were getting before.

My Lords, the noble Lord accuses me of saying things that I did not in fact say—


My Lords, there is another aspect to this. I am told (I do not know, and the Minister may or may not be able to confirm this) that when a garage man who orders petrol feels that he has not got the supply to which he was entitled there is some tribunal to which he could appeal. I am told that in one particular case the owner of a garage I know wanted to make an appeal but that there was not an appeal tribunal. What is the position in this respect?


My Lords, there is no appeal tribunal. One can appeal to the regional offices of the Department of Trade and Industry, and they will make inquiries to see what help they can give. The noble Lord then said that my honourable friend in another place—I think he meant my honourable friend the Minister for Industry—said that there was no danger of rationing.


To supplies.


I thought the noble Lord said rationing, and I beg his pardon. He said there was no danger to supplies. My Lords, I wish that were so; but we have to take into account the facts as they are. The noble Lord will be well aware that the Saudi Arabians have said that we could receive by way of supplies either the average of what we were receiving over the first nine months of the year or the amount we received in September, whichever is the higher. It so happens that September is the higher, but September is not a high month for imports. The imports tend to come in towards the end of the year, which is the period of the highest consumption. Moreover, had it not been for the present oil situation consumption would have gone up because consumption has been showing a tendency to go up. If we take these two factors together there is a considerable shortfall at the moment, and we cannot be sure how the future situation is going to work out. The Saudi Arabians can have some title to speak for all the Arab States, but they cannot completely bind the rest of the Arab States, and certainly not the rest of the world. There is a world shortage of oil, and within that context it is obvious that our future supplies are not as assured as we should like them to be.

The noble Lord talked about price. It is of course a fact that the price we have to pay for the oil went up by 70 per cent. in October, and this has not yet been fully reflected, certainly in the prices that are being paid by consumers in this country. But the consumers cannot be insulated indefinitely from the effect of such increases. So far, in this country the increases have been limited to an average on petroleum products of about lip per gallon—an increase in April last and a further increase of 1½p in October. In some cases the companies have made considerably greater increases on individual products because they are able to even them out over their whole production. There has so far been no increase in oil prices in this country reflecting the October 16 crude oil price increase. Such increases are a matter for the Prices Commission under the Prices and Pay Code and are therefore outside the Department's immediate responsibility. So I am afraid I cannot answer the noble Lord's question on that point; all I can do is to tell him what the situation is.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked how much of the essential cost of introducing rationing has already been committed. The main cost of any rationing system must lie in the administration—the number of people employed in it. The cost of advertising the system, issuing the books and so on is a minor cost compared with the total cost of running the rationing scheme if it is to last for any time. The noble Lord asked whether Clause 4 would allow the Government to exempt the miners from the provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act, or rather from the Code. It would not, of course, because if he looks at Clause 4 he will see that we are dealing there with the Price Commission and not with the Pay Board. It is on prices that the Secretary of State can act; he could not, as the Bill is drafted, act on pay, nor, for that matter, would it be desirable that he should. The whole basis of the Counter-Inflation Act is that it should be and should appear to be fair to all, and if you exempted one particular group of workers you would be under attack from other groups—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, himself pointed out or implied in his speech the last time we debated this subject. The miners have a very—I do not like to use the word "generous" but I should have thought acceptable offer because of the form in which they are able to use the provisions of the Code, and we all hope, I am sure, that they will avail themselves of it.

The possibility of using this counter-inflationary period to revise the structure of the whole industry is one which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, did not advocate. He very sensibly, if I may say so, said that the Government should look at the whole structure of industry to reduce reliance on overtime after this period is over. The understanding on which overtime is worked in the coal mines and on which the whole working of the coal mines depends dates back to 1949. It may be unsatisfactory now, but it is difficult to change it in the middle of a counter-inflationary period, and I entirely accept the noble Lord's suggestion.

He asked about rural transport. There are some ways in which it should be possible to help here, and indeed Clause 4 is intended to do so—for example, the use of school buses, the pooling of the cost of running cars, the sharing of cars and the sharing of the cost and even fare paying will all be possible. We certainly recognise that there are very special problems in rural areas and we shall look at this subject very closely. The noble Lord then asked whether imprisonment is really necessary under this Bill. My Lords, I think that most people in a period of rationing would regard taking personal advantage at the expense of one's fellows as a serious offence. Indeed, I believe that in some countries it was an offence which met with the death penalty during war time. I should doubt whether the country as a whole would be with the noble Lord in feeling that in some cases imprisonment would not be an appropriate penalty.

My noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury asked about air charter flights, with particular reference I think to the Christmas season. Obviously this kind of use of aviation fuel is of a lower priority than some other uses on which the country may depend very much more; nevertheless, I think one must have regard to contracts which have been entered into. We are looking into the whole situation but I cannot say more about it to-day. The position here will clearly have to be considered carefully. My Lords, I think I have covered all the points that have been raised and I should like to say once again that I hope the whole country will realise that we are very much all in this together, and that people will accept this Bill in the spirit in which the Government intend it, which is to safeguard the wellbeing of the country.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.