HC Deb 06 February 1968 vol 758 cc211-3
9. Mr. Emery

asked the Minister of Power when and how he will announce the outcome of his revision of the Fuel White Paper.

13. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Power to what extent the revision of energy potential brought about as a consequence of devaluation has affected the indigenous fuel industries for 1968.

25. Mr. Lane

asked the Minister of Power in what respects, after completing his study of the consequences of devaluation, he intends to alter the assumptions underlying the Government's Fuel Policy White Paper.

27. Mr. Woof

asked the Minister of Power if he will give an assurance that, before he comes to a decision on the reconsideration of fuel policy due to devaluation, he will consult the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

30. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Power if he will now publish his reassessment of national fuel policy consequent on devaluation and accompanying measures.

Mr. Marsh

As I explained in the debate on 22nd January and in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) on 23rd January [Vol. 757, c. 77] the consequences of devaluation are not sufficient to affect materially the policy guide-lines in the Fuel Policy White Paper (Cmnd. 3438). The White Paper is not being revised. Paragraph 6 of the White Paper makes it clear that policy will be kept under continuing review.

Mr. Emery

The reply that the Minister has given appears to be slightly different from what we have been led to believe before. The White Paper was taken back for revision as far as the coal aspects were concerned. It appears that the Minister has said nothing new on that. Is it not shocking that a matter of months after the Government have produced this White Paper we still do not know their final views on the matter?

Mr. Marsh

I find it difficult to understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. The White Paper has never been withdrawn. An idea got around in the Press and on the B.B.C., for reasons I have never understood, that it had, but it has not. What I said was that we would go away and work out how far devaluation impinged on the policy. It does not.

Mr. Lane

Can the Minister tell us when the White Paper will be returning to this House for further discussion and approval?

Mr. Marsh

That is a matter for the wisdom of those who determine the business of this House. It is not for me. The White Paper is published as Government policy.

Mr. Woof

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it is highly desirable that consultations should take place with the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers to obtain an economic and objective survey of the mining industry in the review? Would he not also agree that such consultations would ensure that the nation would gain tremendous potential from coal which would be cheap enough to challenge other competitors?

Mr. Marsh

As I was saying, there is no review in progress. The White Paper is based on the assumption that the coal industry will be viable, as I think it will, in the 1970s. That is why this House has unanimously agreed to make financial provision on a very big scale to hold it together. I am in no doubt that once the industry gets down to this level it will be competitive, but only if it gets to the right viable level.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there have been new factors in addition to devaluation since November, namely, the offer of aluminium smelting companies to fire their power stations with coal? This being the case, will my right hon. Friend either withdraw the White Paper and issue a new one, or make representations to the Leader of the House for a debate, which we were promised in the first place?

Mr. Marsh

I am always willing to convey views to my right hon. Friend. As far as the aluminium smelters are concerned there is an offer to set up a smelter based on coal, but this will not be producing until the early 1970s. It will use only half a million tons of coal a year anyhow. It will not really have any effect on the figure of 155 million, given the margin of error which there must be on such questions.

Mr. Kelley

Is my right hon. Friend trying to say that the White Paper on fuel policy was withdrawn without any idea of reviewing it in the light not only of devaluation, but of the coal commitment factors which ensued therefrom? I understand that an increase in capital expenditure in certain industries is not desirable in the present economic situation.

Mr. Marsh

We must get this clear. The White Paper was never withdrawn. What happened was that between the White Paper being presented to the House and any debate, there was devaluation. At the request of many people I agreed to go away and produce different figures which resulted from devaluation. There is no increase in capital expenditure. It is merely a question of seeing how far the position of oil has changed vis-à-vis coal.

Mrs. Thatcher

Referring to the Minister's previous answers about the aluminium smelter, will he give an assurance that the future of aluminium smelting will be determined in relation to the commercial future of aluminium here, and will not get tied up with the coal versus nuclear battle?

Mr. Marsh

The question of aluminium smelting is quite separate from the question of an overall fuel policy. We are talking here of about one-third of 1 per cent. of the nation's energy requirements, and that does not have very much effect on fuel policy.