Long queues have appeared at garages this evening and motorists have torn their ration books into confetti after the government announced an end to petrol rationing. The Minister of Fuel and Power, Philip Noel-Baker, told the House of Commons rationing would be abolished because two American companies had agreed a deal to supply oil in return for buying British goods.
"This is indeed VP [Victory for Petrol] day for the motor users’ campaign," said a spokesman for three motoring organisations – the RAC, AA and Royal Scottish Automobile Club.
"The effect on the industrial, commercial and community life will be electric. Ration books now become as obsolete as the man with the red flag."
Under a deal agreed earlier this month, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and the California Texas Oil Company will be paid in sterling and in turn they have agreed to invest the money in British equipment, services and oil tankers. It is hoped the policy will attract more dollar-spending tourists – which may offset the amount of dollars paid for the new fuel supplies from America.
The government estimates an increase in fuel consumption of one million tons a year. About 430,000 tons of this will be supplied by the US firms. The rest will come from newly expanded refineries in Britain. But the poor quality of petrol in this country will not improve until refineries – such as those at Southampton and Cheshire – have been completed, probably in 1952.
Discounted driving licences, known as half-rate licences – issued to drivers using basic petrol – will also be abolished.
The Treasury will benefit from £26m in revenue from full-rate licences, a new rate of petrol tax and savings on administration costs. More than 2,000 officials who run the rationing system will lose their jobs. The practice of putting red dye in commercial petrol to curb black market sales will also stop.
Petrol rationing was first imposed at the onset of World War II in September 1939 and its continuation five years after the war ended was a hotly debated issue, especially during the 1950 general election campaign.
The Conservatives in opposition had long argued it was no longer necessary but Labour said the nation had a severe dollar shortage and could not afford to buy US supplies.
After the 1950 election – which saw Labour’s majority slashed – the government realised the public would no longer tolerate rationing. Petrol rationing was reintroduced in January 1957 for five months during the Suez Crisis when Egypt and Syria blocked supplies. It was almost brought back again during a world fuel crisis in 2000 when Opec squeezed supplies to stop fuel prices coming down.
Article from BBC Home’s On This Day