HC Deb 01 March 1966 vol 725 cc1100-2
Q12. Mr. Bryan

asked the Prime Minister if he will appoint a special interdepartmental committee to deal with winter fuel emergencies.

The Prime Minister

I did so some time ago, Sir.

Mr. Bryan

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the statement of 17th November last to the effect that this Committee was to deal with any fuel emergency that might arise? What steps did it take in the Midlands fuel emergency of 25th January or thereabouts? Is it not significant that the publicity routine allotted to this particular non-event was exactly the same as that allotted to a number of White Papers—the University of the Air and so on which have come out in this pre-election week?

The Prime Minister

My advice to the hon. Gentleman is that he should not try to fire off his limited shots too early. There is a month to go yet. [Interruption.] In any case, he has only a limited armoury. Of course, nobody expected this Committee to be physically mending broken valves or dealing with goods which, when they were supplied, were not doing the job they were expected to do. The Committee's job was, as I explained then, to deal with anything that needed to be done in co-operation; for example, if there was a severe winter and coal trains could not be got through to power stations and so on. Its job would be to co-ordinate these things as well as such matters as getting helicopters to villages which were cut off. However, it could not be expected to make up the deficiencies for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite failed to plan.

Mr. Heath

If it was not expected to mend broken valves, was it at least expected to make an attempt to mend broken promises?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that we had ever given a promise that the calculations of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in relation to the supply of gas and coal to the Midlands were accurate. It was the job of this Committee to see that everything that could humanly be done in a severe winter was done, but it could not deal with promises and other things—[Interruption]—mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Lipton

Should not the Opposition be more concerned with the very cold air currents which will blow their way at the end of this month?

The Prime Minister

I think that one or two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, are, in golfing terms, pressing too hard and therefore losing both length and direction.