No, Sir. There is no general shortage of petrol in the United Kingdom at present and none is expected. However, the supply situation is kept under close review by the Government.
The reports reaching me and others say that many thousands of retail establishments are likely to run short of petrol and associated fuels at a very early date. Does my hon. Friend recall, for example, that only yesterday a banner headline in the Sunday Telegraph announced that 8,000 establishments would run out of petrol shortly? Is all this to be lightly discarded by no ministerial answer at all?
Yes, I am aware of the reports, which I have seen. They are not borne out by the facts as so far reported to me, although I am keeping close watch on the matter.
It is correct, as I understand it, that some major companies, while not restricting their supplies, are charging for oil on a wholesale basis instead of giving rebates and special discounts. A number of independent companies previously bought spot oil wherever it was available, but due to the fluctuations in price this is not so easily obtained.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best way for this country to avoid a serious energy shortage in the next decade and beyond is to develop to the full our indigenous coal industry? Does he agree that the bedrock for the coal industry is the generation of power by coal, and that what we want is an expanding power station programme for coal? When can the Minister make an announcement on Drax and West Burton?
Does my hon. Friend agree that talk of a fuel crisis in the United Kingdom is being thoroughly overdone? When does he think that the Forties and other fields will come into operation? How many will be available by 1977?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is too much talk about crisis. Far too much of it relates to the different situation in the United States of America. It would be wrong to be complacent, and it is for that reason that we are giving the support which we are. With regard to the Forties and other fields, I direct my hon. Friend to the report to Parliament published about six weeks ago giving an indication of when the oil will start to flow.
Apart from the information we receive that, if inflation continues at its present rate, petrol could easily become El a gallon in three or four years' time, is the hon. Gentleman aware of reports that independent retailers of petrol are likely to find difficulty and are talking about going out of business? Will the first signs of this happening be that there will be fewer petrol stations retailing petrol in the United Kingdom?
We know of two companies that have given a warning to some of their non-contractual customers that they may not be able to supply them much longer. The Government are looking into the situation and are keeping abreast of what is happening and will wish to know from the oil companies what their plans are in this matter.