Leading Article: No more oily excuses

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"PEOPLE OF the same trade," wrote Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, "seldom meet together but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public."

He could have been talking of the oil industry today. Eighty-eight years after the Standard Oil trust was broken up, the oil companies are combining again in a series of mammoth mergers. The results can be seen at the pump. Now that crude oil costs are rising again, the price of petrol, which crawled down by only a few pence when the price of crude nearly halved last year, is shooting up by as much as 20p per gallon this month alone.

With Lord Sainsbury still in government, the Trade Secretary Stephen Byers has been reluctant to act against the supermarkets. But Lord Simon of BP has now resigned as a minister, so there is no excuse for failing to refer petrol prices to the newly empowered Competition Commission.