HC Deb 26 March 1964 vol 692 cc628-30
6. Mr. Harold Davies

asked the Minister of Power what steps the Government are taking towards a national fuel and energy policy; and whether he will now reconsider the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the writing down of National Coal Board assets, which have become devalued but which are still serviced at 3 per cent. per annum.

The Minister of Power (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

I refer the hon. Member to my replies to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 28th November, 1963, and my statement in the House on 29th November, 1963. On the second part of the Question, I see no need for a change of policy at present.

Mr. Davies

Was it not in February, 1961, that the present Government made statements in the House about a national fuel policy, and yet the nation, despite the statements, is still not clear where we stand with regard to a national policy? With regard to the estimated 4 per cent. increase in production by the Electricity Board arising from atomic energy, in view of the over-rosy picture painted during the ebullient time of Zeta, may we now have a reassessment of our whole fuel policy and the relationship of atomic energy to it?

Mr. Erroll

No, Sir; I do not think that an exposition of fuel and power policies can really be made in answer to a question, and a supplementary question at that. I would refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement on the subject in the debate on the Second Reading of the Electricity and Gas Bill on 29th November last.

Mr. Skeet

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that a national fuel policy should involve two elements—low cost energy available to the consumer and absolute freedom of choice of fuel? Will he also consider the difficulties of obtaining such elements in a national fuel policy if the electricity workers are not prepared to adhere to a three-year arrangement?

Mr. Erroll

I should like to study the succinct definition of the policy put forward by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Davies

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware of the magnificent effort of the publicly-owned National Coal Board? Is it not acknowledged that private industry, since public ownership of the coal mining industry, has virtually been subsidised by hundreds of millions of £s by the National Coal Board being able to provide cheap industrial coal? Is not this admitted by the Institute of Economic Affairs, whose papers are presumably read by that defender of the freedom of private enterprise, the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet)?