Orders of the Day — Fuel and Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th May 1949.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South 12:00 am, 19th May 1949

I was saying that conversion schemes did not proceed too quickly to start with, but after the fuel crisis there was a rush and we had to find something like 5 or 6 million tons of extra oil by the Spring or early Summer of 1947. There then followed a striking increase in the United States' consumption of fuel. I would remind the Committee that the United States' consumption is two-thirds of the world's total consumption, and that in 1947 the total increase in all forms of oil consumption in America was more than the whole of our annual consumption.

In those circumstances it was inevitable that a shortage should occur. Incidentally, there was a shortage of tankers at that time. It is true to say that there was a shortage of tankers then, but there is not now, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made clear in the Debate last year. On the other hand, at the time this shortage occurred, just after I became Minister, I felt it was unlikely that it would continue indefinitely. Nevertheless we had to say to the firms in process of converting, "Do not complete conversion, because we cannot be sure that the oil companies will be able to provide oil." If we had not done that we should have been open to severe criticism.

As it happened, the fuel oil position changed again very rapidly and in 1948, almost exactly a year after that warning was given, I was able, in effect, to lift the ban on the completion of conversion schemes, so that those on the deferred list who wished could go ahead. It is entirely for them to decide whether or not they will convert to oil. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth says they cannot go back to coal, but that is not so. In my view there is no reason why the Government should be apologetic about this matter. We took essential action before the fuel crisis. The oil is available now, and those who want to complete conversion can do so.