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Petrol (Retail Sales)

Oral Answers to Questions — Prices and Consumer Protection – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge 12:00 am, 12th April 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she will make a further statement on recent developments in the retail petrol market.

Mr. Alan Williams:

I have nothing to add to the reply given on 18th February to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright).

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

As the Minister watches developments, will he bear in mind the rate at which small retailers are being eliminated because of the present very low margins, and also the risk that, if this process goes too far, motorists will face a further worsening in service on the forecourts?

Mr. Alan Williams:

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is a worrying point and I have had the representatives of the retailers—the MAA and the PRA—and of the major petrol companies in to see me to discuss these problems. All of them have accepted that, because of the changes taking place in the market for petroleum products, there is bound to be some reduction in the number of outlets. My concern and, I suspect, that of the hon. Gentleman is to ensure that that reduction takes place in as fair a way as possible. I believe that Government participation at this stage can only distort the change of pattern that is taking place. I have made it clear that I intend to keep this under scrutiny.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

Can my hon. Friend do something to protect the motorist who still finds himself in a very confused situation when he passes petrol stations offering 20-fold or 12-fold stamps, coupons, or 8p or 9p off the price of a gallon of petrol, because the signs displaying these offers do not say off what? Cannot he appeal to the appropriate body to state the actual price that the motorist will be charged for the different grades of petroleum?

Mr. Alan Williams:

The plea made by my hon. Friend is echoed by most motorists in this country. However, I might point out that the most forceful way for motorists to state their case is to go to petrol stations showing the prices being charged. At my request, the Director General of Fair Trading is now carrying out negotiations with retailers and petroleum companies to achieve proper price displays. I think that agreement can be reached in the case of price competition, but I am determined that it should extend to stamp trading as well, because it is important for people to know what 20-fold stamps represent, as well as what is meant by 7p off the price.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

With 20-fold or 30-fold stamps available on the one hand and substantial cash discounts available on the other at the same time as companies appear to be wishing to put up prices again, cannot the Minister use his good offices at least to knock a few marketing heads together in order thereby to eliminate some of the confusion among motorists?

Mr. Alan Williams:

This is why I have had meetings with the petrol companies and with retailers. There is an understanding amongst the retailers and amongst the companies themselves that they are not only creating confusion for the motorist but damaging their own good will with the public. That is why we are likely to get some reasonable agreement between them and the Director General of Fair Trading.