HC Deb 15 November 1966 vol 736 cc203-6
9. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Minister of Power which area gas boards will have difficulty in meeting peak demands during a severe cold spell this winter; and what steps he proposes to take to reduce hard ship and production cut-backs to a minimum should there be severe weather conditions.

10. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Minister of Power if he will give general directions, in the public interest, to the gas boards to see that gas supplies are available to meet public need during the winter months.

13 and 14. Mr. Ogden

asked the Minister of Power (1) if he is satisfied that the national fuel and energy resources are now sufficient, and properly prepared, to meet the demands that might be made upon them in the coming winter, and if he will make a statement;

(2) if he will give a general direction, in the public interest, to the National Coal Board to make preparations for the stockpiling of coal in areas away from the coalfields so that householders and industries in such areas will not be adversely affected by a shortage in the event of a severe winter.

45. Mr. Higgins

asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied that national electricity generating resources are sufficient to ensure that adequate supplies of electricity are available this winter; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Marsh

I have discussed winter prospects fully with the chairmen of the industries, including the steps that have been and are being taken to safeguard supplies. Broadly speaking the outlook is better than last winter, and with average winter weather demand should be met. Severe weather or poor plant availability could lead to shortage of some fuels.

Mr. Osborn

If there are very severe weather conditions or poor plant availability, what action does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take to mitigate hardship, and is the Winter Emergency Committee still in being?

Mr. Marsh

On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, it is not customary to give details of Cabinet Committees and their availability. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is nothing new about that, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will be aware.

On the first point, we have taken a number of measures to examine the whole question of fuel supplies and studied questions of electricity grid supplies and coal stocks. These studies will enable us to take any alternative measures needed should there be combinations of difficulty.

Mr. Ogden

What is the percentage of reserve plant which will be necessary to carry us safely through normal periods of severe winter weather such as we get, and when may we have that percentage of reserve plant?

Mr. Marsh

That is a very difficult question. Obviously one has to decide a level at which one is prepared to take risks. Clearly the nation could not possibly afford to cover a once-in-a-hundred years winter. The electricity industry has done a great deal of work on this. It will aim for a 17 per cent. excess of capacity. There was a short-fall this year. We would hope to meet it next winter. From next winter on the position should be very satisfactory, apart from the odd freak once-in-twenty-five or thirty years winter.

Mr. Higgins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the lack of capacity results in a power cut domestic meters do not reflect the full reduction in the amount of heat coming from domestic heaters and, consequently, people not only get a reduction in power but pay more? Is that the case, and what does the Minister intend to do about it?

Mr. Marsh

That is a point which I have not had put to me before. In fact, cuts as distinct from voltage reductions are very rare. The industry does an extraordinarily good job.

Mr. Fortescue

Since it is not normal to give details of Cabinet Committees, why was the Winter Emergency Committee announced with such a fanfare two years ago?

Mr. Marsh

The hon. Gentleman must ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that question.

Mr. Wainwright

Would my right hon. Friend take into account the possibility of a shortage of coal this winter, and will he say what he intends to do to remove the lack of confidence among employees in that great industry?

Mr. Marsh

The great thing which would restore the confidence of employees would be to get through this winter with as few difficulties as possible. All the evidence that I have is that there should be; no global shortage of coal. In some higher grades of domestic fuel in some limited areas there could be shortages. It is a question largely of distribution. The over-all position for the coal industry is not one which gives cause for alarm.

Sir G. Nabarro

Why is the Minister so hesitant about his estimates for next winter? Has he not taken into account the fact that in every preceding winter we have had full employment and this year the demand for gas, electricity and coal will largely be reduced by three-quarters of a million unemployed and a large number of under-employed on short-time working?

Mr. Marsh

I do not think that those two hang together as much as that.

Sir G. Nabarro

Of course they do.

Mr. Marsh

The biggest threat to fuel supplies is the odd event like, for example, difficulties of getting components delivered on time and getting plant constructed on time.

Sir G. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman must do his homework.