In that case, I presume that while the Government are in office that will be a permanent arrangement. My hon. Friend has a point.
When the Secretary of State for Energy made his statement to the House it was at a time of utter confusion in petrol stations all over the country. Some areas were completely without supplies, and many tourists found that petrol stations had closed down completely. That was because of the way that the supply of petrol was being managed. Queues were appearing everywhere. The Tories said that they would leave the matter to market forces.
I recall that at that time there was not one petrol station supplying petrol on the M4. There was one petrol station displaying a notice saying.
£2 worth of petrol only".
Two pound's worth of petrol does not get the motorist very far. In other petrol stations notices were displayed to the effect that they were selling not less than £4 worth of petrol. Nowadays, some petrol stations in London will allow the motorist to buy two or three gallons at £1·20 per gallon but, if he wishes to buy more, he will pay at a higher rate—possibly, £2 per gallon. That is the way that market forces operate.
It has been pointed out that in this country we are rapidly becoming self-sufficient with our North Sea oil and yet there is chaos in our petrol stations that is unheard of in France or Germany, both of which receive North Sea oil. There have been difficulties in Ireland, but most of the countries who receive North Sea oil have not experienced such difficulties.
What should be done to resolve the problem? The Government should become involved in it and the petrol companies should not be allowed to deal with the distribution of petrol in the way that they are with all the injury that is being caused to British motorists. The companies should not be allowed to get what they can from the market. At the moment, as far as they are concerned, anything goes.
After the chaos had developed, the Government came along and imposed the 10p extra charge on each gallon of petrol. Since that time, the problem has not been resolved in many areas. In my constituency, the railways and other public transport services have been unable to obtain the oil that is required to allow public transport to operate. What sort of energy conservation is that when people cannot travel by public transport? They have been forced to use their motor cars by a Government who say that it is their intention to conserve energy.
Oil-fired power stations are now working to full capacity, unlike the coal-fired power stations—despite the fact that there is 300 years' supply of coal and large stocks in the country The oil companies are taking full advantage of the lack of intention by the Government to become involved in the market forces. BP—a British-owned company with a 51 per cent. Government shareholding—is making large profits. The Government announced their intention to offer BP for sale. If BP were retained in the public sector, that at least, would mean that the benefit would be returned to the people. The extra prices that the motorist is paying at the petrol stations should not be sold out to private enterprise.
If there is to be a so-called "sale of the century" will BP, which is now owned to a large extent by the British people, give the benefit to the British people, or will it be handed over to financial speculators from various parts of the world? Would foreign investors buy it? It is essential to maintain our control of the company. It would look very bad if the Government, after their handling of the oil crisis, sold it.
With North Sea oil flowing, this country should not be experiencing the difficulties that other countries have.