HC Deb 01 February 1972 vol 830 cc333-80

Order for Second Reading read.

7.42 p.m.

The Minister for Industry (Sir John Eden)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This small but important Bill has three main provisions. First, it increases the statutory limits on the borrowing powers of the Electricity Council and boards in England and Wales and of the Scottish electricity boards. Secondly, it authorises contributions to accelerated expenditure by the industry designed to promote employment. Thirdly, it removes certain impediments to the transfer of properties between boards.

Clause 1 raises the statutory limit on aggregate outstanding borrowings from £4,400 million to £6,500 million for the Electricity Council and the electricity boards in England and Wales, and from £800 million to £1,200 million for the Scottish hoards. The new limits are estimated to meet the borrowing requirements of the industry up to the end of March, 1978.

The statutory limits on outstanding borrowings apply to the aggregate of temporary borrowings, the principal of stock outstanding, except compensation stock, the outstanding principal of securities issued for the purpose of borrowing foreign currency, and the principal of outstanding Government advances.

The present limit of £4,400 million on aggregate outstanding borrowings by the Electricity Council and boards in England and Wales, which was set by the Electricity and Gas Act, 1963, was at that time expected to be reached by March, 1970, but, as I explained to the House on 2nd March last year, when the Electricity Council's borrowing powers were last under review in the debate on the Electricity (Borrowing Powers) Order, 1971, a scaling down of the industry's investment programme took place as it became apparent that earlier assumptions about the growth of the economy and demand for electricity had been over optimistic. In consequence, the statutory borrowing limits have served for a further two years beyond the 1963 expectation. Since 1964, the plans of the electricity industry have been successively reduced. Capital expenditure rose to a peak of £670 million in 1966–67 and has since fallen year by year. In 1970–71, the last complete financial year, it was under £400 million.

As expansion of the economy gathers momentum, capital expenditure in this industry will increase again, but the prospects are that for another year or two it will continue at a relatively low level. The low level of capital expenditure in the past few years is the main reason for borrowing powers having lasted longer than was expected in 1963. Details of the past and present developments in the industry are to be found in the brochures which have been published by the Electricity Council and the Scottish electricity boards, copies of which have been made available to hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Over the past eight years, the number of power stations has been reduced from 236 to 187, as old small stations have been taken out of service to be replaced by smaller numbers of larger stations. Thirty-nine of the 500 megawatt sets are now in service, and the remainder of the 47 originally ordered are expected to become operational during next winter. The number of employees in the industry now is about 188,000; total sales have increased between 1962–63 and 1970–71 by over 50 per cent.; and the industry's revenue in England and Wales from electricity sales has gone up from £750 million to nearly £1,400 million.

The size of the contribution made from internal resources does, of course, in addition to capital expenditure, have an important influence on borrowing needs. In the past two years, the fact that increases in electricity prices have not kept pace with the increases in the industry's costs has meant lower profits and higher borrowing. As a result of this, the proportion of the industry's capital requirements financed from internal sources has fallen below the high level of 77 per cent. achieved in 1969–70 to 53 per cent. in 1970–71. The estimate for the current year is 60 per cent.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

Would it not be appropriate to mention that the electricity industry is in its present financial position because the Government asked it to hold back prices increases?

Sir J. Eden

I am coming to that point now.

The increases in electricity prices made by the boards in the early months of last year were the first general increase since 1967. These were kept as low as was practicable generally below the levels that would have been justified by costs. In the financial year 1970–71, the increase of over £200 million in operating costs, a substantial element of which was due to higher coal and oil prices, more than offset the gains from increased turnover and improved efficiency, and the industry made its first loss. In the present financial year, revenues are affected by the readiness of the boards to comply with the C.B.I. initiative. Price increases not exceeding 5 per cent. are being made by the area boards in no case earlier than the anniversary of last year's increases. It is of course recognised that in the face of further cost increases during the past year these price increases will not be enough to prevent the industry being in deficit again this year.

In consequence, the industry's borrowing requirements since the order was made last March, raising the statutory limit to its present level, have been greater than expected, and it has become necessary to introduce new legislation rather sooner than I envisaged in the debate, if the risk of the Electricity Council's borrowing powers becoming exhausted within the next few months is to be avoided.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Could the right hon. Gentleman give any estimate of what the cost has been and is likely to be in this year to the Electricity Council to keep within the 5 per cent. limit?

Sir J. Eden

Offhand I could not do so, but if the information is available I shall certainly see that it is given either later in this debate or during the Committee stage. I take the point made by the hon. Member.

In Scotland, about which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development—who is to reply to this de- bate—will give any further information that may be required, the pattern has been a little different. Further legislation was needed to increase the borrowing powers of the Scottish Boards in 1969. The Electricity (Scotland) Act, 1969, established the present limit of £800 million which took effect last August through the Electricity (Borrowing Powers) (Scotland) Order, 1971. These powers, as explained in the debate on the order, will also be exhausted sooner than expected for similar reasons and, although there is not the same urgency as with the Electricity Council, new powers are required in the present Session.

The Electricity Council and the Scottish boards have submitted estimates of their capital requirements, internal financing and borrowing requirements up to the end of March, 1978. In covering a period of seven years from the end of the last complete financial year—which is of course little over six years from now—the industry is following the pattern established in the 1963 Act. The estimates are set out in the Memorandum (Cmnd. 4877) which was published when the Bill was introduced, and are also given together with background material in the brochures to which I have already referred.

In the period from 1st April, 1971, to 31st March, 1978, the total capital requirements of the Electricity Council and boards are estimated at £4,900 million, of which £2,800 million is expected to be financed from internal sources, leaving a borrowing requirement of £2,100 million. The corresponding figures for the Scottish boards are: capital requirements £788 million, internal finance £286 million—not £296 million as stated in paragraph 5 of the White Paper through a printer's error—and borrowing requirements £502 million. In addition, the Council and the Scottish boards need to borrow £300 million and £36 million respectively to repay compensation stock and loans in 1973. In order to enable industries to meet all these borrowing requirements the statutory borrowing limits need to be raised to £6,500 million for the Electricity Council and £1,200 million for the Scottish boards.

I know that the House recognises that in attempting to look six years into the future the figures are inevitably subject to a number of uncertainties. There are uncertainties about the rate of growth of demand for electricity and about the longer term trend of costs and prices.

In the face of these uncertainties, the estimates of borrowing requirements can be only tentative. The industry's capital expenditure programme is reviewed annually by the Government and firm approval given for the year following the review—though estimates for the ensuing four years are reviewed and are included in the annual White Paper on Public Expenditure. In raising the borrowing limits we are concerned only to provide for the legitimate borrowing requirements of the industry over the next few years. Great precision is not possible, nor is it necessary. The industries have made the best estimates they can and the Government accepts them as a reasonable basis for fixing new borrowing limits. The total amounts by which the previous statutory limits are now to be increased are very large: £2,100 million in England and Wales and £400 million in Scotland. But these full amounts do not immediately become available. Following the now well-established practice, interim limits are included in the Bill, which may not be exceeded without an order laid by the Secretary of State and subject to affirmative Resolution of the House. These will raise present limits by £800 million in England and Wales and £150 million in Scotland; and some £300 million of the former will be absorbed on the redemption next year of compensation stock which had not counted towards the limit. Thus, in England and Wales the effective interim increase in borrowing powers after allowing for re-financing of compensation stock is some £500 million, which should meet the industry's needs for two years or so. On present estimates, the House may be asked to approve a further increase above the interim limit at that time.

I now briefly turn to Clause 2 of the Bill which is to provide powers for the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury to make payments out of public funds to the Electricity Council and the Electricity boards in contribution towards the expenses of the capital projects which they are bringing forward.

This is an essential part in the exceptional measures which the Govern- ment are taking to promote employment. As the House will recall, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced on 23rd November last that the nationalised industries are making arrangements, at the request of the Government, to bring forward about £100 million of capital expenditure into the years 1972–73 and 1973–74. Of this sum about £60 million is attributable to electricity boards. It was expected that this would include expenditure involving additional costs, such as the extra payment of interest charges, and it was understood that compensatory payments would be made.

I am sure it is right that the extra costs consequent upon this exceptional acceleration of expenditure should fall upon the community as a whole rather than on the industry's consumers. I am therefore asking the House to provide discretionary powers for the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to make such payments up to a total of £25 million. This sum has been designed to cover all the expected claims for compensation from all the projects now being considered. Indeed it should suffice to cover the possibility of acceleration of some further minor projects; but it does not provide for another large project on the scale of the Ince power station. The actual compensation paid will depend not only on the capital expenditure advanced but also on the length of the period by which the projects, which vary widely in size and time scale, are brought forward.

The choice of Ince B, an oil-fired station, rather than a coal-fired or nuclear station, should not, of course, be taken as a sign of any broad decision about the choice of fuel for future station orders. As hon. Members will know, the relative merits of the available nuclear reactors which might be built in the United Kingdom are already under study by my officials. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred to this in the debate last night. This is being done in association with the generating boards and United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, and consultations have also taken place with the manufacturers. These studies which have certainly had full regard to developments in Europe are nearing completion, but so far they have not yet reached the point of Ministerial decision.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

One realises that these are vastly complex problems. I do not think any of us on this side of the House would want to come to a definite decision as to how the Vintner Committee should report, because these are very difficult matters. On the other hand, do the Government recognise that there is a very real problem in the supplying industry? It wants to know what its investment plans may cost. After all, the Vintner Committee has been studying this for some time.

Sir J. Eden

I am very well aware of the point made by the hon. Member and of course we are anxious that this study shall be brought forward to the point of decision as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman fairly recognises that these are extremely complex matters; major decisions are involved and inevitably they take a little time. I can assure him that we are pressing ahead with this as fast as we can.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

The House has in the past been subject to an impressed settlement on these matters. May we on this occasion have an assurance that there will be laid before the House a White Paper or explanatory memorandum which we may be able to debate, showing how the various considerations are arrived at in choosing a particular form of generation, coal-fired, oil-fired or nuclear fired?

Sir J. Eden

These are other matters which one has to take into account in assessing the relative merits of available fuels for the power stations. This will be the subject of normal Ministerial decision, as it has always been in the past. It will also be dependent on the views of the Central Electricity Generating Board which in the first place makes proposals about power stations, and these matters can be debated and discussed in the normal way. It would be most unfortunate in regard to the time of the House if every decision were to be the subject of a White Paper in advance.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

The electricity industry has been in a straitjacket over its fuels for years. It burns about 73 million tons of coal per year. Does the Minister agree that flexibility is required, and could he say whether there is any possibility that the elec- tricity industry will be able to burn gas as an alternative fuel?

Sir J. Eden

These are important and wide issues and these matters will be taken into account as the various power stations consents come forward.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

An important principle is involved here and it particularly concerns miners' M.Ps. This involves capital investment and the efficacy of operation as between coal-fired stations and oil-fired or nuclear-fired stations. Has the Central Electricity Generating Board given the hon. Gentleman any figures showing how far it will be necessary to come to this House for further capital investment? What is the magnitude of the sums involved, since there has been a colossal failure following the tremendous capital investment in the nuclear-powered programme which is not working to anything like full capacity?

Sir J. Eden

The experience of the hoard in trying to get some of these major new plants in operation has had an effect on expected performance, but we are now talking about forecasting requirements for a period of six to seven years ahead. This is a different order of magnitude and is not affected by the sort of considerations advanced by the hon. Gentleman.

I am very much aware of the fact that we are facing enormous pressures of time in this debate and I hope the House will acquit me of any discourtesy if I truncate my remarks to enable other hon. Members to take part.

I turn briefly to Clause 3. This Clause is concerned with a transfer of property between electricity boards. This has nothing to do with the larger question of the general organisation of the industry. I do not anticipate any early statutory changes in that field. This is concerned with technical reorganisation. Hon. Members will recall that a similar provision was included in the Electricity Bill, 1970, which lapsed with the General Election. Transfers of property between boards are necessary from time to time in order to facilitate technical reorganization—for example, the transfer of the operation of the 132kV transmission network from the C.E.G.B. to the area boards. In such circumstances it may be difficult to transfer all the property and other rights involved by ordinary instruments.

The transfer of the various property rights including wayleaves, some of which were acquired compulsorily, is a matter of considerable legal complexity and could best be effected by order under Section 19 of the Electricity Act, 1947, as amended. In its present form the powers of this Section would not be available in respect of property acquired other than by the vesting provisions of the Electricity Acts, 1947, and 1957, and the Electricity Re-organisation (Scotland) Act, 1954. In Clause 3 of the Bill we have therefore provided for the extension of the Secretary of State's powers to transfer property between boards to cover all property whenever and however acquired. This Amendment has been sought by the Electricity Council and the boards in England and Wales so that any necessary organisation will not be impeded by the exclusion of property acquired since the vesting date.

Clause 3 is not intended to facilitate a major reorganisation such as was proposed in the Bill introduced by the Labour Government in 1970. There is no immediate likelihood of any organisational change being proposed comparable to that measure. In the meantime, we shall encourage the greater cohesion in the industry, and to this end we have recently made a number of appointments which will ensure that the experience gained in generation is brought to distribution and vice versa.

Mr. Dalyell

Could the hon. Gentleman say what is meant by "greater cohesion in the industry"?

Sir J. Eden

I will, if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to. Most of those who have followed this industry closely will understand that in days gone by there was a tendency for generation to move in one direction and distribution in the other. Now, thanks to effective leadership given to the industry by those who at present are in charge of both distribution and generation, there is a greater readiness than ever to work together as a single industry. It is to ensure there is this sort of effective change of experience that we have been making a number of appointments to that end.

However, the Bill itself is not concerned with reorganisation. It is a short but important Bill and deals with money without which the industry would quickly be brought to a standstill. The industry in the past years has already shown its capacity to improve its organisation, strengthen its efficiency and increase its productivity in a way that is wholly commendable. I am sure I carry the whole House with me in saying that at every level there are to be found in the industry men of the highest calibre who have served it very well.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

Before my hon. Friend draws his remarks to a close, may I make one intervention in case I do not get an opportunity to do so a little later? The amount of money the House is being asked to provide must be tied up with the ability of the industry to make profits which, in turn, is tied up with the leadership, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned and which all hon. Members would wish to praise. Could my hon. Friend give any information about the fuels which might be used in the future? Could he say that he has not rejected for either of the two energy bodies the possibility of the use either of natural gas or Russian oil as a fuel, both of which would have allowed a considerable lowering of price in certain generation aspects?

Sir J. Eden

I am very much aware of the importance of the point put to me by my hon. Friend. I can give no answer other than that which I gave to the question when it was put to me earlier: namely, that decisions on the fuelling of power stations are taken when applications are brought forward. At that time every aspect of the situation is brought into account. There is the whole question of the availability of cheaper sources of fuel, which may be in gas, in oil, in Russian oil, or whatever it may be.

Mr. McGuire

Or British oil.

Sir J. Eden

There is also consideration of the social implications which may derive from any decisions which are taken affecting the coal industry. These matters have to be balanced and taken into account at that time.

Mr. Emery


Sir J. Eden

I hope that I have said enough to persuade the House that the Bill is necessary.

Mr. Emery

I am sorry, but—

Sir J. Eden

I am sorry. I ask the House to support the Bill.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)

I am sorry that the Minister's speech and his hon. Friend's intervention concluded on a note of mutual regret. We can only hope that the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) will get an opportunity to confide to his Ministerial colleague and to the House what it was that so suddenly and perhaps belatedly oppressed his soul. We are all eager to hear him.

The Minister concluded by saying that the future of the industry depended on the capital that is put at its disposal, the borrowing powers and the financial arrangements which he proposes to make. But it is a little odd that no mention has been made of the coal strike. It seems to me that in assessing the financial requirements of the electricity boards we need to know what prospect the industry has if what must be for it a disastrous strike continues to the point of interrupting its capacity to supply the public.

We should not forget that three-quarters of the energy for the generation of electricity comes from coal. Here we are, in the fourth week of a coal strike, talking about the electricity boards and the industry's prospects yet absolutely ignoring the development of a situation in which stocks of coal are being run down and, within a relatively short time, if the strike continues, the industry being in a state of near paralysis with disastrous effects on the rest of the country.

I am bound to demand in this debate that the Minister responsible for both the coal and electricity industries at least stops pretending that he has no responsibility for taking positive and constructive action to bring the strike to an end. The House ought, in discussing the Bill, to insist that the Minister discontinues his disingenuous attitude in pretending that the dispute is between the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers and the mineworkers themselves and that he is, as it were, the impartial, detached referee.

The miners know that the Minister is responsible for some measure of control over the offers being made by the Coal Board. He is, indeed, the decisive factor in the negotiations. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. We protest against the shabby pretence by the hon. Gentleman that it is not his responsibility to take a hand in the negotiations. He will inevitably take a very big hand in the negotiations, and I make no complaint about that. I complain about his pretending that he is not a party to the dispute. He is showing the miners that he has no understanding of their grievances and case and is therefore making it impossible for any credible negotiations to get under way.

I beg the Minister to go back to his Department, relate what is happening in the coal industry to the prospects of the electricity industry, and, indeed, of the whole of British industry, and stand up like a man and acknowledge that he is the decisive force in any negotiations with the miners. He ought to get off his high horse and stop pretending that this is a matter between the Coal Board and the mineworkers. The hon. Gentleman is the most important party to any of these negotiations. If they are stalemated without any effort on his part to break the stalemate, he must take responsibility for what occurs, particularly in the power industry, in the not too distant future.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

While agreeing with the points made by my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to incorporate in his remarks the possibility that next week there might be a work-to-rule within the electricity supply industry? Certainly the union leadership within that industry is looking for a lead from the Minister. Unless that lead is forthcoming, there may be not only the damaging strike of the miners but a strike within the electricity supply industry.

Mr. Lever

I have no wish to impede any reasonable efforts on the part of the Government, although I have criticisms about the selective application of those efforts to the nationalised industries in their struggle to keep down inflation. We have already had our tease on the election braggadocio about bringing down prices "at a stroke". We know that the Government have the serious task, not that anyone pretended to be able to accomplish it overnight, of dealing with inflationary problems. Although I have criticisms which are not relevant to this debate about how the Government have undertaken that task, I do not want any words of mine to damage any efforts which are reasonably and fairly made to avoid inflationary settlements.

If the Minister wants fair dealing between the men and the great industries which they serve, to which they have deep attachment in which they are aware that their future lies, he must behave in a candid, open and honourable way. I do not regard it as behaviour calculated to win the confidence of the workpeople in these great nationalised industries when the Minister stays behind the scenes as the decisive voice in any wage negotiations but purports in public to be disinterested. I repeat, there is no shame that he has a decisive part in these matters. He must, however, face the workpeople and their representatives, the trade unions, whether in the coal or the power industry, like a man and negotiate with them. He must not pretend to the workpeople that powerless nationalised boards are holding up settlement by being rigid or digging themselves in at a particular point. We know that it is not the boards but the Government who are responsible for any rigidity or failure to keep the discussions going or any dilatoriness in showing the necessary flexibility.

If the Minister wants relations of a constructive kind with the workpeople and their representatives, his first duty is to be candid with them, because lack of candour or anything which smacks of double dealing will inflame the situation and make settlement more difficult.

I have said that because I think we are moving into a critical situation. It is a matter of great urgency that the Department which is responsible for the coal industry and for our electricity supplies should deal with the unions in those industries at least with the maximum candour, expedition and sense of willingness to talk, to negotiate, to be reasonable and to seek to understand their point of view, even if the Department cannot always go along with it.

I want to deal with one or two aspects of the Bill, which is not in itself contentious.

Sir G. Nabarro

It is contentious.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) says that it is contentious. Almost anything is contentious when it comes to the notice of the hon. Member. But I must leave him to such controversies as he wishes to raise with the Minister. I want to deal with certain particular points. If I do not cover every detail, I can exculpate myself on two grounds. First, unlike the hon. Member, I regard the Bill as largely uncontentious; and secondly, my hon. Friend who will conclude the debate will doubtless repair any gaps in my speech.

I want to concentrate on the following points. First, the Government are here providing a very substantial sum to make good to the electricity boards the extra cost of advancing capital expenditure. I deal with the first point of principle. The Government are saying, "We are asking you to act against commercial purpose and to act for social advantage, and we will meet the cost from the Exchequer, not from the price of electricity." I wholly applaud that principle of distinguishing social purpose from commercial purpose. It is necessary in order to keep the boards clear of a fatalistic attitude that it is no use looking at commercial practice if every so often the Government ask the boards to depart from it at the Government's expense or at the expense of price.

Mr. Skeet

Do not take it too far.

Mr. Lever

The principle is absolutely sound. My objection is to the areas in which it is most operated. I am very troubled about the area in which it will operate. If one has to advance capital programmes on non-commercial grounds, ex hypothesi the thing is a wasteful operation but for the need to give employment it is urgently required. I note that the Minister is frowning with some lack of understanding of my point. If one has to pay the electricity boards to do this, to make good losses that the industry suffers because capital invesment is being asked from it and not decided by commercial principle—that is to say, it is being pushed ahead before it is really needed—

Sir J. Eden

Not quite. The point is that almost certainly there would have been, in due course of time, a power station but it might not have come as it has come. Bringing it forward earlier means that there are extra costs—not losses—incurred and it is to compensate for those that extra provision is being made.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman has rephrased what I have been saying. Extra costs and losses are precisely the same thing—losses compared with not bringing it forward. That is what I am referring to. If one brings forward a capital project in an untimely way, not linked with one's original planning, there is a loss compared with what would have been the case if one had not brought it forward.

I mentioned my next point during the main debate on our economic situation and all I got in response from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and another member of the Cabinet was an attempt to make stupid party political points that were of no value even for party political purposes and even more futile for economic purposes. They asked whether we were trying to snatch work from the hands of the unemployed whom they were seeking to benefit by this Bill. I said then, and I repeat now, that in the present situation, in which the Government's mismanagement has led us to a figure of over 1 million unemployed, if anything could advance useful work or create useful demand which will reduce that unemployment in the near future, I should be in favour of doing that. I mentioned the specific things that I would do to achieve that.

The trouble about the proposals of the Government in their panic is that, first, they are the wrong way of supporting employment and, second, they will not support employment at the relevant time. I was asked which of the Government's projects I would not support. I said that I would not support any advancing of capital programmes which would not have an effect in the coming months, and I challenged the Government to tell us of one of these capital projects which was to come forward in the relevant 12–18 months about which we are thinking. The capital programmes here are being pushed forward into 1972–73 and 1973–74 mainly, as I understand from the hon. Gentleman, so that there is a reasonable expectation that they should be in full swing at a point of time when the Government's problem may very well be that they have excessive demand on their hands. Therefore, they will have to hold back something else at that time because they have, as a matter of political panic, pushed forward the programmes of the electricity industry and many others at public expense—quite rightly, if it is to be done at all. But it is very like the old proverb, "If you do not know where you are going, any road will do".

The Government have run out of sensible and reasonable economic strategy, so they have to look as if they are doing something. They have ordered power stations for 1973–74 and 1974–75 that probably are not wanted for years ahead and at any rate, according to the best calculations of the boards, can be put into those years only at a cost of £25 million, an extra cost which the Government are to make good. I object to that. We have to be very careful before we give the Government a blank cheque for an ostensibly noble purpose but one which will not deliver the goods within a relevant time.

If the Government want to employ £25 million so as to produce an immediate employment response, they would do better by giving it to those in urgent need at present, such as the old-age pensioners and the sick, to create additional demand. There is nothing wrong with that when there is so much unemployment of men and resources at present. This proposal, however, is fudging the issue at considerable expense and it will not work in the relevant period of time. It may even work to our disadvantage if the Government's reflationary measures are as effective as they claim they will be.

Another objection is that if we were in government I should not have asked private enterprise to gear its capital programmes, which in any case are complex and difficult in their arrangement, to sudden requests from the Government to push them forward or hold them back because of the general state of the economy. Capital programmes are the last thing that should be used for these short-term purposes. Capital programmes, especially in an industry such as electricity, need to be thought out and planned long ahead and should relate to the best judgment that can be made about the needs of this power industry. Even when capital programmes are not disturbed, we have not had anything like perfection in the deployment of capital programmes in this industry. To ask the industry to move forward its plans in this way cannot be calculated to bring order and the best results.

No industry should have its major capital programmes disturbed, with a pretended flexibility which in the nature of things it cannot have, by the Government seeking to move the programmes forward or backward at short notice. They are subject to long-term planning, and long-term pressures should be brought if it is felt that too little capital investment is being made. One can then take the initiative to push in the direction of more capital over a proper time scale related to economic efficiency. If one wants to pull capital back, the same principle applies.

We do not want this stop-go policy. This is part of the "go" which seems so attractive when it is undertaken and which, if it is done in this way, always leads to a "stop." The sane policy of capital investment must be one in which the programmes are tailored to the needs of the industry. When the capital investment is as vast as it is in this industry, it is particularly important that it should he sensibly undertaken. This industry does not yet have any concept of its fuel plans in its capital programme. This is an odd moment at which to announce the pushing forward of a capital programme which would not otherwise have been undertaken.

Until one knows what fuel will be used, one cannot see how the industry can best serve the national interest in creating employment. For example, what is the good of closing a pit, putting men out of work in the coalfields and then, when faced with swollen unemployment figures, rushing forward with cheques saying, "Build us an extra nuclear power station quicker than you would have done"? What on earth is the good of planning of that kind? Before the capital programme is tampered with in this way, the least we should know is that the capital programme has been soundly constructed and proper judgments made.

I will not go on at length about the choice of fuels, but I have grave anxieties as to the past and deep nervousness as to the future on this question. I do not think, for example, that the nation would have authorised the vast expenditure on nuclear power stations that has been undertaken had it known that several years after this huge expenditure had been incurred the nation could not claim that it had had any benefit from these vast expenditures. The pie was to be much lower in the sky when these vast expenditures were authorised, and the special pleaders will tell us that in the 1980s or 1990s—and I suppose by 1980 we shall be told that it will be the next century—the nation will reap rich rewards from this foresight of spending much-needed resources on vast experimental nuclear stations, perhaps without adequate ability by informed public opinion to examine and control those plans. I am always terrified when a small group which alone has the available details on which to judge makes decisions which are vastly more important than many of the decisions made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget. We are talking of hundreds of millions of pounds a year that has been spent on these stations and we should know what benefit we have gained.

What is the available capacity in this country at the moment compared with five years ago? With these huge expenditures our available capacity should be largely enhanced, but it is not as far as I know. It has been said that capacity is little more than it was five years ago. It has been said that nuclear power stations are running 30 per cent. under their predicted capacity. This is a serious shortfall and we should be told more about it.

I hope that nobody deceives himself that in a monopoly industry, which has monopoly rights to price electricity, earnings on capital employed are a relevant indicator of achievement. They are not relevant. One has to see what happens in other industries in other countries compared with what we have achieved—

Sir G. Nabarro

On a point of order. Might I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker? There are evidently to be four Front Bench speeches in a debate lasting for two hours and 20 minutes. Are the Front Benches to be called on to wind up at nine o'clock and, if so, will all the back benchers who are sitting here waiting to speak be excluded from the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating what I intended to say to the House when the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech. The ordinary customs and traditions of the House will be upheld, and I shall rely on hon. Members to be as helpful as they can.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South would be the last whose anxiety to be called would trouble me unduly in making the points which I have to make. I have a certain responsibility which I must discharge as briefly as I can.

My final point, which I should have finished if the hon. Gentleman had not been on his feet, is that the Minister has shown that he is willing to spend public money to stimulate employment. There is nowhere safer from an economic point of view, nowhere more desirable from a moral and human point of view, to stimulate employment than in the regions of high unemployment. May I suggest to him that instead of dickering with the capital programme of the electricity industry, in paying out money he ought to explore the possibility of providing subsidised energy in the areas of high unemployment to stimulate production in those areas?

I do not want to go on any longer. There are some hon. Members other than the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South whom I and, I am sure, the House are anxious to hear. I therefore conclude by urging the Minister to give attention to the points which have been raised and not to minimise the gravity of my anxieties as I have raised them because we do not intend to force a vote on the Bill.

Mr. Skeet

Would the right hon. Gentleman perhaps consider remitting value-added tax which is imposed on coal in certain regional areas to carry out the proposals he has in mind?

Mr. Lever

I have an entirely open mind which would favour any sensible action by the Government which would give immediate stimulation to the indus- tries particularly in the areas of high unemployment. There it can be safely done; there we need not worry about the Government's story that there is enough in the pipeline and if there were any more it would be overheated—although the day when it will be overheated in the development areas of Wales and Scotland, whatever the Government do, is, I fear, a long way off. I therefore urge the Government to pay attention to a more realistic use of their power for social purposes than so far has been evident.

8.38 p.m.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

None would dispute that we have to finance the nationalised industries and vote them new capital sums from time to time, but the very scale of the sums involved in this Bill has caused me a great deal of concern in a period when we are passing through grave and acute inflation.

For example, the capital expenditure of the boards in England and Wales under this Bill is to have the authorised limit increased from £4,400 million to £5,200 million and to £6,500 million, in certain circumstances and in Scotland from £800 million to £950 million and, in certain circumstances, running up to £1,200 million.

For the purpose of my point the exact sum of money is not material. The advances are enormous, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) was exactly right when he said that they would boggle the imagination of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who does not deal in a single Budget with such advances of sums he budgets for—on comparable scales. I am not prepared to pass these sums through this evening in a debate of less than a couple of hours. I shall seek to amend the Bill in Committee, thereby enabling a full debate to take place, and in the interests of the coal mining industry particularly.

It is crass stupidity for Government policy to state that they cannot pronounce until the moment before a power station commences building what sort of fuel it will use. The position of the coal industry is this: at present there are approximately 145 million tons of coal produced in this country per annum. Out of that about 50 per cent., or about 70 million tons, are used for electricity generation. The thermal efficiency with which coal is burned is not particularly high, and I shall deal with that point, briefly, in a moment. But I see no possibility at all of the National Coal Board planning intelligently its production schedules over eight or ten years ahead, including the sinking of new pits as necessary and major reconstruction of old pits, when it cannot be told by its largest consumer, who takes one-half of the whole of its output, namely, the electricity industry, how much coal the electricity industry is budgeting to consume, and how much oil, and how much nuclear power. I intend to say no more on that point tonight, other than that it is crass stupidity for the Government to pronounce such words and call them a policy.

My second point is that we should be examining in the House, and certainly I shall seek to examine in Committee, the thermal efficiency with which the fuel is burned in the power stations. Vast quantities of fuel are consumed. I will not weary the House by reading out the details they are all to be found on page 31, Chapter 4, of the last Annual Report and Accounts of the Electricity Council. On the same page, in paragraph 86, we read: The average thermal efficiency of generation in the Board's coal and oil-fired stations during the year was 28.4 per cent. compared with 28.3 per cent. for the previous year. We invested £700 million to secure a 0.1 of 1 per cent. advance in thermal efficiency. I wonder why my hon. Friend the Minister did not refer to thermal efficiency, the cardinal and critical factor in assessing the efficiency with which capital is being employed in the most capital-intensive of all British industries. Again, I shall raise the matter in Committee. The Committee will be taken on the Floor of the House. We have not had a full-scale electricity debate here for a very long time. As the Bill impinges on the fortunes of both the coal industry and our major energy industry, the electricity industry, we should have a major debate, and I shall ask the Whips to put on one side a full day.

Mr. McGuire


Sir G. Nabarro

No. That is too soon.

I shall ask for a day so that we can explore the efficiency with which those large sums of money are being employed.

I shall make my third point very shortly. I rarely find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Cheetham, but he was certainly right this evening. I came to the House expecting to hear a pronouncement about the coal stocks at the power stations, expecting to learn how soon electricity supplies would fade or be shed because of coal supplies running out in the event of the miners' strike continuing for two, three or four weeks longer. I have heard not a word about coal stocks. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell me in winding up whether we have four weeks' or five weeks' coal stocks left. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Two weeks'."] I cannot obtain a reliable figure. I hope that my hon. Friend will give me it when he winds up, as well as saying something about the very difficult dispute in the electricity supply industry, which may lead to working to rule. We all recall the last time that happened. I came here on New Year's Day, 1971, and found the Palace of Westminster blacked out. Cold, hungry, and miserable I was, without any electricity supplies, and I do not want a recurrence.

That is all I have to say about the industry generally. I sought the advice of the learned Clerks at the Table to make sure that I should be in order in raising the matter to which I now turn, the suicide of Mrs. Ann Hemmingway in Coventry, on account of her electricity bill being deliberately inflated by a junior clerk in the East Midlands Electricity Board, deliberately inflated—let someone deny it—from the normal figure of £1 to £18.50. The old lady was so worried that she took her life. The East Midlands Board has defended the practice, and says that it will continue it. I quote from my favourite newspaper, the Worcester Evening News, in which I stigmatised the practice by saying on 13th January: It is simply monstrous that a public corporation can hound a woman to her death on account of a few pounds for her electricity bill. I asked a Parliamentary Question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the following terms: …having regard to the suicide of a lady in Coventry, who received a bill for electricity supplies, inflated by the electricity board to draw attention to her overdue account, whether he will issue a general direction to electricity boards to cease such practices forthwith. Although my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry expressed deep sympathy—indeed, he could do no less—he has not put a stop to the practices. He is talking, but he has not put a stop to them. He replied: The East Midlands Board is investigating the case and will be submitting a report to me. Also, the East Midlands Consultative Council has confirmed that, as provided for in the statutory procedures, it is discussing with the board the problems arising from estimated accounts. It is open to them to make representations to the Electricity Council and to me. Given the statutory procedures applicable, I doubt whether a direction would he appropriate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 14–15.] I castigate my hon. Friend. A direction is exactly appropriate. Since that Answer was given, the East Midlands Board has defiantly stated that it will continue the practice. Other boards have said that they will continue the practice. The chairman of the London Electricity Board has sent me a personal note saying that his board "have never indulged in this practice." If the London Electricity Board need not indulge in the practice, why need the East Midlands or the Midland Electricity Boards indulge in it.

In any event, it is entirely unnecessary. The recourse is simple. I never ask a question unless I know the answer, and I always know the answer to any question involving electricity appliances. All that it is necessary to do is to require by Statute that electricity meters are without, not within, domestic hereditaments in order that the meter reader may always secure access to the meter.

In Gloucester—I shall not advertise the firm other than by naming it—there is a firm called Permali Limited manufacturing gas and electricity meter cases which are readable from the outside of homes. None of this trouble with old ladies committing suicide would ever take place, and enormous savings would occur were all gas and electricity meters without hereditaments and not within.

I pursue my hon. Friend on this matter because it is one of great public concern. I may tell the House that I received a modest 250 letters after my Parliamentary Question about the old lady in Coventry. That was not as many letters as I have received recently about my traffic problems, but it is still a substantial number. On Monday next, 7th February, when my hon. Friend answers another Parliamentary Question of mine, I hope that he will not equivocate or procrastinate or in other ways evade the very important principle that it raises. I will ask the Secretary of State next Monday: …following the suicide of Mrs. Ann Hemmingway at Coventry several weeks ago due to an inflated electricity bill, submitted by the East Midlands Electricity Board, and his subsequent undertaking to discuss with the Electricity Council and other interested bodies the practice of submitting estimated accounts, what has been the outcome of his talks; and whether he will make a statement on his future policy. I want to prevent other old ladies committing suicide on acount of anxieties arising from the bullying and tyrannical behaviour of monopoly, nationalised boards, behaviour for which they ought to be condemned by every hon. Member.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

I have served in the House for quite a time with the hon. Member for Worcester—

Sir G. Nabarro

Worcestershire, South.

Mr. Palmer

I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman expanded over the whole of Worcestershire. I was going on to say that while some of us may doubt his economics, no one would doubt his humanity. As one who has had a long connection with the electricity supply industry, I agree with what he has said about this practice of over-estimating meter readings. I can see no reason for doing so even if from time to time meter readings have to be estimated. They should be pitched on the side of underestimation.

I have no objection to Clause 2 of the Bill which will make it possible to advance projects. The extra cost will be paid out of public funds and I advocated such a course some while ago. As the Minister on that occasion gave me a somewhat dusty answer I am glad to see the conversion which the Bill represents.

What particular projects are now to be brought forward and how many jobs? We have not had a great deal of detail. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Ince and I understand that contracts have been placed or are about to be placed for the Isle of Grain which is also an oil-fired power station. How far will that station now be advanced? What further projects are in mind? There should be a new coal-fired power station. Also I should like to see Sizewell B nuclear power station being allowed to proceed. Rightly or wrongly there is vast national investment in nuclear power, public and private.

I have been long an advocate of one design and construction company for nuclear plant and it may be that financial circumstances in the industry will very soon bring that about, at least I hope so. The big issue is which reactor type is to be developed before the fast breeder reactor is ready? The hon. Gentleman's answer about the pace of the Vintner investigation was unsatisfactory. It has had a long time and he should jog it to completion. If we cannot make decisions faster than this we will never keep ahead in the world of accelerating technology.

We should be more enterprising in the selection of reactor types. The C.E.G.B. should consider the claims of the steam generating heavy water reactor because it has considerable export potential. I am certainly now doubtful about the H.T.R. Maybe we should stick to the A.G.R. though we have yet to see an advanced gas-cooled reactor actually working. Will the extra money now available be used for further reactor development, particularly of the steam generating heavy water reactor? I suggest that the Government look again at the suggestion of the Select Committee on Science and Technology when we said that to save money and time, the prototype stage of a reactor should be on the electricity supply system and that any loss which the system might incur in trying out an otherwise untried reactor should be made good out of public funds. I understand that this system is now being operated in the German supply undertakings.

As I argued in the debate on the Gas Bill last Thursday, it is highly undesirable to have a gigantic centralised corporation for the bringing in of natural gas, for wholesale and for retail distribution. This Gas Bill has been a triumph for the gas men, but, speaking with my admitted electricity bias, it fills me with foreboding for the fuel and power scene generally.

There is always a danger when talking of fuel and power matters for one always to apply what is true in one country to the circumstances of another. Unlike America, here in Britain we have a reasonably temperate climate and there is a great deal to be said for using some natural gas for power stations linked with pulverised coal. The advantages of natural gas would then be taken down through the power supply system without all the costs of conversion now being incurred in carrying through the retail use of natural gas.

As for staff morale in the industry, as the House knows, I have had long connection with electricity supply as a power engineer and I am in close contact with all grades of staff. One does not wish to say anything which is exaggerated, but staff morale in electricity supply is at a low ebb. One factor is the way in which the staffs have been absurdly run down by the combined action of pay and productivity schemes and the operations of management consultants, some of whom have left a trail of disorganisation and depression wherever they have operated. The sooner some management consultants are cleared out of British industry the better.

It is remarkable that the electricity supply industry, which once prided itself on giving a 24-hour service to the community, had its first ever major dispute just over a year ago after a decade of attempted productivity bargaining. In spite of all that has been tried wages have in real terms fallen back against other industries.

The renewed dispute is now at a delicate stage and I do not want to say anything which might prejudice matters. The industrial staff have been subjected to excessive productivity bargaining and differentials have narrowed for the staff grades. Often they have been the victims of the management consultants about whom I spoke.

The top salaries for chairmen in the nationalised industries were advanced greatly, and I make no complaint about that, because I have always been an advocate of the rate for the job. Provided tax is properly paid, I see no reason why they should not get those large sums. However, those top salary increases have not filtered down through the staff structure generally and the result is that pay differentials throughout the industry have worsened.

It appears that the industry is now required, because of this Measure, to make a sudden effort to relieve unemployment generally, though as my right hon. Friend pointed out, this will be somewhat slow acting in bringing relief. The principle, however, is sound, but it cannot be done in a hurry. If the electricity staffs are run down in the way they have been run down in the past, it will not be possible for them to be built up quickly. Nor will the best people come forward if their morale has been depressed and their sense of achievement blunted by external factors.

A depressing external factor has been the way in which the industry has been forced into the red in its trading account under the present Government, for the first time since nationalisation. There was a loss of £56 million last year. There are several reasons for this. One is that the demand for electricity has slackened because of the sluggish economy. This takes the heart out of people used to working in an expanding industry. For this, the Government must take the responsibility, because they manage, or mismanage, the economy.

Then, for three years, prices were held steady, and some boards even made a reduction. Now, however, there have been higher fuel charges and increases have become inevitable, but the Government have artificially limited them. Once again, the Government must take responsibility. It is no good, as Carlyle said somewhere, kicking a man into a ditch and then blaming him for not being able to climb out. That will be the position of the electricity supply industry if present policies are persisted in for too long.

The financial result is that the industry's net return has gone down to just over 4 per cent. With a fair field and no favour, it could be 7 or 8 per cent. I hope that the industry will not be blamed for this trading result; the fault lies with the Government.

No one can say that this industry is not efficient in the use of manpower. The number of employees per megawatt of output capacity dropped from 6.9 in 1962 to 3.8 in 1971, according to the last report of the Electricity Council. It has nearly halved in a decade—an outstanding record of improved productivity.

I should like to know the Minister's future legislative intentions. Is it the parliamentary timetable which is now holding back a Bill to make structural changes in the industry, or have the Government abandoned this intention? In view of what is proposed for the gas industry, I should be interested to know whether there is to be a parallel Bill for the electricity supply industry?

Have hon. Members opposite, particularly the Minister for Industry, cured themselves of the delusion that something will be gained for the public by making over appliance selling and contracting to private interests? My information is that these hiving off proposals have had a poor reception from the electricity boards themselves. The trade unions are openly against any change, as are the electrical equipment manufacturers, in the main. If it is intended to persist with these proposals for giving away profitable ancillary activities, the Government are in a minority of opinion.

Showrooms and consumer services were an integral part of this business long before nationalisation. To talk of them as just activities on the circumference is absurd. Utilisation completes the natural process chain of generation, transmission and distribution. That has been the evolution of the industry and it is no good, as is often done, making comparisons with industries which have not had the same evolution. Any present change would be wasteful and destructive of staff morale as I have said before.

I believe that the consumers, by and large, would be against it. It would be interesting if some of the boards were bold enough on their own account, even if it did not meet with Government approval, to hold an opinion poll among their consumers.

My final two questions then to the Minister are, first, do the Government propose to bring in structural changes in the industry, and, secondly, have they dropped those so-called "hiving off" proposals?

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

The House recognises the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) as one of the great experts on the electricity industry. I begin, as I always do in a debate on power, by declaring an interest in one aspect. I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely about some of the problems which management consultant surveys have brought to the nationalised industries. The electricity industry is suffering after such a report. There have been too many disastrous changes of procurement policy. Instead of there being a centralised and efficient organisation, such as that brought about by Mr. Derek Rayner in the Ministry of Defence and those which apply in the coal and gas industries, the Electricity Council has broken up its central purchasing structure in the Central Electricity Generating Board. It has diversified it into nonfunctional factors, often reporting to engineers who know nothing of procurement and purchasing. This is detrimental to the whole industry. I had not intended to introduce that aspect. I do so to further the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central.

My hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised that, having been stimulated by not getting as good a reply to one of my questions as I expected, I find Clause 1 unacceptable. If nothing else, I believe that consistency has some virtue. The most boorish thing in this House is to quote from one's own speeches and I shall not do so, but perhaps I might paraphrase. I recall that, when my hon. Friend and I sat on the Front Bench opposite in debates on orders increasing the borrowing powers of the electricity and gas industries, we complained about proposed increases which amounted to only one-third of those figures. Yet this Bill increases the borrowing powers for the Electricity Council and hoards by 48 per cent. in England and Wales and by 50 per cent. for the Scottish electricity boards.

It is all very well for my hon. Friend to talk about a figure of £5,200 million "or such greater sum" not exceeding another figure. But the lower figure is always forgotten. It is always the sum that was not to be exceeded which becomes the figure reached. Originally the borrowing power was raised to £3,300 million and up to a maximum of £4,400 million—and the £3,300 million figure was forgotten. The industry got to the maximum of £4,400 million.

Now the Government are asking for an increase from £4,400 million to £6,500 million in one case and from £800 million to £1,200 million in the other case. These are vast increases in one bite. The limit is too high in terms of management efficiency. It is too much in one tranche. As I said in opposition, less money should be allowed in one go as a matter of pure business economics. When an industry has such huge borrowing powers allowed to it, its overall efficiency is nothing like as keen as it would be if the limit was lower. I do not seek to deprive the nationalised industries of money but when they need it they should come back to the House for approval.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the fuel feedstock situation in the electricity industry. I asked my hon. Friend if he had refused an application for the use of either natural gas or Russian oil. This cheap feedstock might have been available. I did not get a reply other than that this matter was considered on its merits at every application. I do not mind what the Minister's decision was. If the decision was to reject either of these propositions it may well have been for social reasons or to deal beneficially with the coal industry, but let us say so and not hide the facts. I can only interpret from his statement that the Minister in fact turned down such applications because, if he had not done so, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for a negative reply to have been given to me.

It is of the utmost importance that this matter should not be dealt with on an ad hoc basis one station at a time. That gives neither reasonable efficiency to the coal industry nor the opportunity for forward planning. There cannot be any necessary forward planning for people providing equipment for the industry. I think this is the wrong type of judgment. The Government ought to make the decision for the next two or three stations saying which fuel should be used and not deal with it on an ad hoc basis one station at a time.

If for the same reason it is necessary to continue with coal, the most expensive feedstock to the electricity industry, I have always argued that that ought to be dealt with not by the electricity industry having to meet the social cost but by the social cost being separately accounted by the Government, to meet this as a cost which is known and able to be understood by everyone as a means of ensuring that the coal industry shall be kept in being, that employment shall be safeguarded and that capital assets are used and the whole of the town structures kept viable in these areas. There is nothing wrong in making these decisions, but let us not hide the social and financial factors in a Bill dealing with increased costs in which no one is able to adjudicate about how much is social cost and how much is not.

There has been reference during the debate to the position of the electricity industry in relation to the coal industry. It may not be popular to say this but I do not believe that any section of society, whoever it may comprise—doctors, nurses, postmen or miners—has the right to hold the rest of society to ransom. I do not consider that to be equitable or correct. I therefore say that if there is necessity for the Central Electricity Generating Board or the area boards to—

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Emery

No, I will not give way, because five or six more hon. Members want to speak in this debate and if I gave way I would add five or six minutes to my speech by answering a question whereas I want to finish on the point I am making. If there has to be load-shedding or blackouts by the electricity industry, that load-shedding or those blackouts should be directed to the coal-mining areas so that those bringing about trouble should realise the factors which are involved.

Mr. Thomas Cox


Mr. Emery

This may not be popular, but quite a lot of people believe that those sections of society which bring hardship to society should be the first to realise what is the effect of their actions.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) is quite right to say that his remarks will be unpopular. I thought what he said was also very stupid, and I wonder whether he would have said that had he come from the north of England, from Wales or from Scotland and had seen It first hand that on-cost workers in the coal fields were earning £13, £14, £15 per week in take-home pay.

Mr. Emery

I probably know these matters just as well as do other hon. Members.

Mr. Dalyell

There are others who have more authority to speak about the mining industry than I have, so I will leave that matter.

I should like to concentrate on the Vintner Committee and would ask why the Committee has taken so long to report. We are at least due for an explanation. What consideration is being given to the total resources problem with which the Minister is now faced? I speak as one who wants to see coal develop and increase in use together with a flat-out attempt to go as fast as possible in nuclear fuel.

All the recent literature is very convincing that oil and natural gas are both rare resources. We hope the Government will come forward with some kind of coherent plan and not an "itsy-bitsy" solution to the problem of a total fuel policy. I should like to ask about the advanced gas cooled reactor. May we be told how deep is the trouble it has run into? Since we have not been able to sell any abroad, I should have thought that there was nothing to be lost in being frank with the House of Commons, notwithstanding commercial considerations.

Is it, I wonder, true that we should go ahead with the steam generated heavy water reactor? All the evidence which came before the Committee on which I had the honour to serve under my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr Palmer) added up to a British plan to go ahead with the S.G.H.W.R. until such time as the fast reactors came in. It is vital for our exports, and if we are to consider potential exports the system must surely be something we use ourselves. How can we go to a prospective importing country and say, "We have a wonderful system, but our Government do not back it. We do not use it ourselves?"

Mr. Alvin Weinberg, who is head of the Oakridge National Laboratory, has made a clear case for a standardised nuclear fuel. For all the talk of a shortage of resources in the 1990s and up to the turn of the century, there is surely a considerable argument for going ahead with a whole series of nuclear paths along the lines suggested by Weinberg. Regardless of whether one is pro- or anti-Common Market surely this should be done on a European basis. The sooner we get our European discussions right the better.

I wish to ask the Minister two specific questions. First, what is the future of Skateness in the north of Scotland? Perhaps the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) will say something about this in his reply. Secondly, the Minister said that it cost a good deal more to bring a power station forward granted a normal rate of inflation. I do not believe it, and it is up to the Government if they really take that view to provide evidence.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

I shall be very brief in my remarks because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. The main provision of the Bill so far as I am concerned is Clause 2 which is related to the encouragement of employment. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) said, we have not heard from the Minister how many jobs are to be created. I would suggest that on a short-term basis there could be a fair number of jobs on the construction side in different parts of the country. It is surely this aspect with which we should concern ourselves in the present situation. But in view of modern developments which have taken place, the number of permanent jobs which would exist as a result of these proposals would be small.

I turn briefly to the question of redundancy within the electricity supply industry. Several comments have been made about the utter confusion of certain aspects of policy in the industry. I suggest that redundancy is a classic example. Whereas we are debating the possibility of extra job opportunities in the industry, at the same time we are going through a period when forced redundancy is about to take place within the industry.

Let us consider the history of redundancy in the industry. First, there was voluntary redundancy. Many men in their late fifties thought that this would be a good opportunity to get out of the industry, accept the payments that were to be offered, and find some other job for the rest of their working lives until of pensionable age. Many men applied for voluntary redundancy. But the board apparently panicked and stopped voluntary redundancy, because it realised that men were not coming into the industry in view of the low wage incentives which were being paid.

Then again forced redundancy was introduced. I understand that it is about to take place within the industry now. One can therefore understand the deep concern of men being forced out of their jobs, many of whom have spent their whole working lives in the industry—I am sure that the Minister will agree that there is a great degree of loyalty in the industry because of the obligations that the men feel they have to the general public—when they find that the jobs are not disappearing as such, but are being taken over by contract labouring firms, many of which pay far higher salaries to their workers than the men who were formerly doing the jobs were being paid.

In addition—this is a matter I specifically ask the Minister to try to answer now or in Committee—there is deep concern within the industry about a matter which certainly exists within the building industry; namely, the lump system. There is concern in the electricity supply industry whether some of these contracting firms which come in are following a similar system. I suggest that there is clear evidence that many of these firms engage self-employed men for whom they have no obligation for tax or social service commitments. This system should be stamped out as soon as possible.

I have made my point that there is great concern about redundancy. I am sure that the whole country hopes, as I have no doubt the leaders of the unions representing men in the electricity supply industry hope, that, before next Monday, there will be an agreed solution to the wage negotiations. I hope that we will get back to stability within the industry. Unless the Minister gives a great deal of consideration to the question of redundancy and the issues which flow from it, although we might settle the present problem, I believe that we shall be confronted with many other issues in the coming years which will be detrimental not only to the electricity supply industry, but to the country as a whole. I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to this matter.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

Speaking in very rapid shorthand, I thought that to some extent the Minister did a service to the House when he praised the electricity industry. Conversely, however, he did a great disservice to the House and, indeed, to the Government when he refrained from making any comment about the effect that the miners' strike would have on the electricity industry. One does not need to be an accountant to realise that the figures proposed in the Bill must be out of date if the Government maintain their pigheaded attitude in trying to settle the miners' strike.

Before coming to the House I received certain information. The Minister must also have this information. Being the chairman of the miners' parliamentary group, I get information about what is happening. I know what will happen this week. There will be power cuts and the position in the power stations will get worse and worse. Yet the Minister presents a Bill to the House which makes provision for certain costs and he does not make any comment on what those costs will be related to if the miners' strike continues. As I said to the Secretary of State for Employment today, it is the height of irresponsibility for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and not to comment on it.

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) said that he would want to be on the Committee. After some of his comments, I wonder whether he will be. It would be very interesting if he were. Perhaps the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) wants to be on the Committee. He is very much out of date, more so than when he used to sit on the Opposition benches. All his arguments today lead one to suppose that he must say the most outrageous things he can say. But I hope that he will be on the Committee, because we should welcome him.

Mr. Emery

The Committee stage is to be on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Eadie

There will be a Committee.

I also felt—and here I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer)—that the proposition that we should have a third type of nuclear power station is something that we shall have to debate very carefully. We have already had two types and £2,000 million has been spent on them. Therefore when talking about finance, we are entitled to know what progress is being made. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South was on the ball when he said that it was time we had a debate about electricity and nuclear power.

The Minister did another disservice to the House. There was a leak in the Press that the Government had been discussing an energy policy. It is wrong for them to come to the House and talk about any form of energy and not give us the advantage of the Cabinet's knowledge of the future rôle of coal, oil and nuclear power in the production of energy. We are entitled to this knowledge. It should not be leaked out to the newspapers. When looking at the question of finance involved in the Bill we should look at it objectively, asking whether we are doing the right sums. From that viewpoint the Government have done a very great disservice.

What effect will the £25 million about which we are talking have upon employment? Will the Under-Secretary say how many jobs that will create and when they will be created? How many jobs will it mean for Scotland?

The Government have a responsibility to answer my specific points: what will happen to the people because of the power cuts, will the Government settle the miners' strike and how many new jobs will be provided by the Bill?

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

I shall make only two points, although there are many things that I should like to say, especially to the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office and to the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). The 6,000 miners in my constituency who are on strike will not be impressed by the hon. Member's contribution to the mining conflict.

Mr. Emery

It happens to be right.

Mr. Sillars

Indeed, the vindictive manner in which he uttered his words will make the men stronger than ever in their determination to win what is no more than a fair take-home wage. The hon. Member alleges that the miners are trying to hold the country to ransom. But the general public, through the agency of the Government—different Governments of different complexions—has used and abused the mining communities for a number of years. The mining communities have supplied cheap energy to this country. That means that they have supplied cheap labour for far too long. The hon. Member for Honiton and the Ministers responsible should understand the facts of life. For the mining communities, the only thing that will settle this strike is cash on the nail above the last offer of the National Coal Board.

I hope the Minister for Industry does not think that he is dealing with the postman on this occasion. Psychologically, in mental tuning and in organisational ability the miners are far superior to any other group of organised workers. They have a capacity for survival and will survive.

I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday what the United Kingdom growth rate would require to be to give full employment north of the Border. He dodged that question. Last night the Minister for Industry said that we can look forward to a growth rate of 4 to 5 per cent. for a number of years. A week ago on Monday the Prime Minister said that a disturbing phenomenon in unemployment terms is that we now have a 5½ per cent. rate of productivity. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Development answer my question? I am not an economist; I do not know whether he is, but he is backed by a bigger staff than I am. Am I right in thinking that with a rate of productivity of around 5½ per cent., which might accelerate in future, a growth rate of 5 per cent. no longer has the impact in terms of creation of job opportunity that it would have had in the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s? The Minister should be able to answer that question in a detailed manner. If he is not able to answer it, it will mean that the Government are stumbling around in the dark for a solution to unemployment.

This is a matter of extreme importance to the Conservative Party and to the unity of the United Kingdom. The Under-Secretary of State for Development well knows that his party north of the Border had a separate manifesto. The Conservative Party has ignored the views of the Scottish people since 1970 and has implemented a ruthless policy. That situation is latent with danger for anyone who wants to keep the United Kingdom united.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I am pleased that so many back benchers, including myself, have been able to be called. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) said. The most remarkable thing about the debate is that there has been no mention of the miners' strike and its possible effect on the electricity industry, no mention of the possibility of power cuts flowing from the miners' strike and no mention of the situation in the electricity industry.

Clause 2 of the Bill gives a subsidy—that is what it is, no matter what we call it—of £25 million for bringing forward uneconomic capital projects. The mining industry is paying more interest content per ton than it did prior to the capital reconstruction of 1965. This has an effect on the wages problem and such a sum would help here. The coal industry is a regional employment industry. Apart from Nottingham, it operates in regions of heavy unemployment. No figure has been given of the number of jobs which will be created by these subsidised advanced capital programmes. We can hazard a guess that there will be very few indeed and that the workers who will be employed will be people in the construction industry who traditionally move from place to place.

We have the miners on strike, and I want to echo what my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said, that if anything would make the miners more solid in their attitude towards the strike it would be to hold over them the threat that they will probably suffer more than anyone else from power cuts. I can tell the Minister now that they are rock solid. I spoke to them on Sunday. We went to power stations where they are picketing. They are rock solid. It is no good the Minister's displaying what I consider to be an Olympian detachment. The miners are very much involved.

The position is this. When in the past in this House we have debated the electricity industry and the coal industry I, along with my hon. Friends from mining constituencies, have said that the problem facing the industry was that it did not know how many coal-fired stations were to be built. We knew that there would be phasing-out. I remember asking the then Minister, now the Chairman of British Rail. Dick Marsh, whether he could tell us, when we were talking about long-term capital projects, how many boilers in which coal could be burned would remain in future years. This was a very big problem and people were concerned about it. Drax was the last to be planned. He could not tell us; we got the usual Ministerial answers.

If the Minister does not make some move in the miners' strike, a move for cash in the pocket—for the miners have had enough flannel—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I do not think the hon. Member should go too much into the question of the strike. Time is short, and I am sure he will want to keep to the Bill.

Mr. McGuire

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but no matter how many boilers there are, no coal will be produced, such is miners' attitude, because they could not care less, unless there is a respectable offer. Otherwise they will not settle. It is no good the Minister's talking of subsidies, which will give only a few jobs, if we cannot do something positive to bring the miners back to work. This Bill is only tinkering about with ideas which will give very little work when the Minister should be doing something practical which would help the country, help the coal industry and help the electricity industry.

9.37 p.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I am grateful for these two or three minutes at the end of the debate to put two specific points. Before doing so I should like to deal with a remark made by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and with the implications of that remark that the postal workers a year ago today held the nation to ransom. At this time a year ago I was not a Member of the House. I was a postal worker involved in the strike, and I should be failing in my duty to my colleagues if I did not refute the implications of the hon. Member's remark. It is totally dishonest to make such a remark.

Now to address myself to the subject of the debate this evening, I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland two specific questions. In terms of the £25 million capital programme which is to be advanced to assist to solve the unemployment problem, I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) in asking how many jobs this will create in Scotland. Secondly, what specific projects in Scotland are in mind in the provision of the £25 million?

Finally, I should like to ask the Under-Secretary what part he sees the oil industry playing in the future power structure of this country. My constituency is the centre of the oil industry in Scotland, and I am most concerned to know, for instance, whether there have been any discussions in relation to the pricing of oil, and the amount to be charged by the oil companies for oil to the electricity boards. I should be interested to know what discussions have been held, what projects are being brought forward, and what part the oil industry is to play in the future energy programme of this country.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I want first to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and to tell the Minister that hon. Members on both sides believe that the practice of deliberately sending over-estimated electricity bills is utterly unacceptable, morally dishonest and insensitive to the feelings not simply of elderly people but of other people on low incomes who can get very worried when they receive a bill with which they cannot cope. The Minister should use his powers in this respect. He can give a direction if necessary, though I am sure he would not need to do so. He appoints and he has the power of dismissal, and the industry is aware of that. Hon. Members on bath sides would welcome it if it were made clear tonight that the practice will not be tolerated in future.

It is normal in such a debate as this to try to tell euphoric tales of achievement, but it is a singularly mixed tale we tell of the electricity industry. It has a record of productivity success despite a peculiar record of technological adversity. On the adverse side, despite all the extra capacity provided during the past five years, it has been suggested that the actual megawatt capacity available as opposed to that theoretically available is no greater than it was five years before. I understand that during last winter less than half the new capacity constructed during that five years was available for use. In case anyone thinks that this is a political point, I should add that though the money may have been spent during our period in government the equipment involved was ordered when the Minister's party was in office.

The industry seems to have run into a series of peculiar technological difficulties—the Babcock and Wilcox Boiler hairline fractures, the failure of 500 megawatt units and then the corrosion of the Magnox system.

On the credit side, it is remarkable what has been achieved in the face of that adversity. Investment during the past decade has topped the £5,000 million mark and over half has been paid for by the industry. Yet despite this heavy self-investment programme, prices in the electricity industry during that decade rose at only half the rate at which the cost of living generally rose. In that sense the electricity industry was one of the factors helping to hold down the cost of living rather than pushing it rapidly ahead.

Despite the technological failures, the rate of increase in productivity has been striking. If we take 1960 as 100, we find that by 1970 the labour cost per unit in the industry had fallen to 82 whereas in industry generally it had risen to 150. That startling rate of increase in productivity should be borne in mind when the current pay claim is considered. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides hope that industrial action will not prove to be necessary in achieving a settlement. If, however, such action is taken it is worth reminding the public, in view of some of the headlines at the time of the last dispute, that it is the management that takes the decisions on which sectors are to lose power.

I fully accept that if there is industrial action some cuts may be necessary, but it is at the discretion of management where those cuts occur. This must be made clear to the public. For example, if a sector with a hospital in it is blacked out, the presence of the hospital is known to the board at the time the decision to cut out that sector is taken. At the Wilberforce Inquiry last year the South East Board's chief engineer made it clear under questioning that the workers had never refused to co-operate to keep hospitals supplied, even during the industrial action. He said that help had been "readily forthcoming".

I hope that we do not have to face a similar situation again, and therefore I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) in urging the Minister to act in pursuit of his duty to ensure adequate power supplies and not just sit back and allow the industrial situation to drift.

As regards the future, several of my hon. Friends have raised very fundamental questions. I know that in the time available to the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, it will not be possible for him to give too much detail. But it is important that the House should be told not only what the future mix of firing methods is to be but how the mix is to be arrived at. For example, what will be the impact of the actions of the oil-producing countries? What system is now being used for assessing fully the pollution costs of each of the alternative systems? Is this being looked at, and is it being quantified? Is a social cost being assessed of the pollution created by the various systems? It may be, for example, that it would be better to accept the need for a coal-fired station rather than incur the possible hazards of nuclear wastes. We want to know this and to be told how it is arrived at.

The Bill is an astonishing document. It is yet another admission of defeat by the Government. Like the Mineral Exploration Bill, it recognises a fact which the Government foolishly failed to realise when they first took office, namely, that grants are the most appropriate form of stimulus. Secondly, the fact that Clause 2 exists at all indicates the depths of the Government's own assessment of the fall that has taken place in commercial confidence. Previously we were told that investment allowances would unleash an investment boom. It did not come. Then we were told that that was because the industry was waiting for the decision day about going into Europe and that when we said "Yes, we will go into Europe" there would be a bursting of the investment dam. If the investment dam has burst, where is it and why do we need Clause 2 to stimulate investment one to two years ahead? If there is that investment expansion which was allegedly to come as a result of the decision-making, this Measure could make its employment impact and expenditure impact at the wrong stage of the cycle.

The Government are trying to use the electricity industry and the other nationalised industries in the Keynesian manner, for pump priming. They are trying to prime the same investment pump that was not primed by investment allowances, by tax concessions and by their attempts to create a consumer boom. Now they intend to use the purchasing power of the nationalised industries. We on this side do not object to that, but if the Government are to bring forward £100 million in the nationalised sector, £60 million of which will come from the electricity industry, we want to be clear that this will not saddle the industry with unproductive overheads and, if it does, that the costs of those overheads are covered fully. Secondly, we want to make sure that it does not mean bringing forward decisions before the appropriate time for taking them. In the electricity industry we are working near the frontier of current technological knowledge, and to rush decisions may mean rushing that much earlier into high-cost errors.

I am glad that the Government at last recognise the value of the publicly-owned sector, and I appreciate the panic that there must be in the Government for the Minister for Industry to have been converted to this realisation. If it makes sense to use the purchasing power of the nationalised industries, why not take it to its logical conclusion? Instead of stimulating order books for producers indirectly, why not allow the electricity industry to produce for itself? Why not encourage ancillary activities and allow it to diversify according to normal commercial criteria? Instead of hiving off, why not allow it to add on those sectors where private industry is at present failing to carry out adequate investment?

It would be helpful if tonight the nationalised industries could be assured that the Minister has substantially reformed his attitude towards hiving-off. We cannot expect the nationalised industries to update investment if at the time their investment becomes profitable it is hived-off to the private sector. The hon. Gentleman must give a guarantee that anything brought forward in the £100 million programme, not just the electricity programme, will not be subject to any hiving-off activities. If he wants to use the nationalised industries to remedy the failures of the private sector, he must give this guarantee and stop his mischievous doctrinaire methods.

9.52 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)

In the very short time left I will do my best to answer as many of the points that have been raised as possible. If I fail to get through them all I hope that these matters can be covered in Committee or if necessary by letter. I will go as fast as I can and hope to get through as much as possible.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) and others asked about fuel studies. There is no avoidable delay here, but the House will understand that it is important that decisions taken on such a fundamental matter should be absolutely right. Hon. Members will recognise that there have been and continue to be changes in the criteria and the facts lying behind these studies. What particularly springs to mind is the dramatic change in oil prices. When my right hon. Friend has received the report he will be ready to make decisions as soon as possible.

Several hon. Members asked about the advancing of capital programmes and wanted details about that and the number of jobs which would be produced. Although the bringing forward of Ince B power station is the only spectacular, large item in this programme, there are a number of small and very small items which it has been possible to bring forward. I can assure Scottish Members that there are projects in Scotland being brought forward which we are discussing with the electricity boards. Some are small, some small to medium. It is not possible to say how many jobs will be provided but I can say that they will be provided in most cases well within the period of 18 months which the right hon. Member said was necessary. They will certainly begin to provide jobs soon.

It is not merely the workers who take part in the construction of these works, transmission lines and so on who are affected. There is also the ordering of equipment of various sorts which spins off into industry generally and is difficult to quantify. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's reservations on purist economic theory grounds, but I am glad that the Government have brought this work forward. I am certain that it will employ more people, that it is valuable and worth doing.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about available capacity. He and other hon. Members expressed the view that in spite of all the capital expenditure of recent years available capacity was not much different from what it was. Two figures which I have been able to discover since the right hon. Gentleman made the point may illustrate that his fears are not altogether well-founded. The available capacity at 31st December 1966 was 38,500 megawatts and at 31st December 1971 the figure was about 53,000 megawatts. That is a considerable increase and I think it justifies the capital expenditure made by both sides during that time.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the hon. Gentleman certain that this is actually available, rather than available in theory or nominally available?

Mr. Younger

I should have to look more deeply into the matter to answer that question with certainty. It is available capacity and the figures are those which I have been able to obtain quickly, because I thought the House would like to have them. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will raise this point in Committee if he wishes to pursue it.

I was asked about the availability of coal stocks now. It is rather misleading to produce an average figure for coal stocks at power stations throughout the country and assume that one can draw firm conclusions about the possibility or otherwise of power cuts. It is obvious that in some areas there are considerable stocks for some weeks ahead, while in others there are less stocks. I therefore do not believe that it would be helpful for me to make generalisations and give average figures. I can say, however, that there is still a considerable number of weeks' stocks available in general and that naturally everything possible will be done to use them in the most useful way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) raised the important point of the tragic case of Mrs. Hemmingway. The whole House will agree that we are anxious to see that such a tragedy does not occur again and hon. Members will join me in expressing sorrow at the fact that it did happen.

I was somewhat surprised that my hon. Friend did not mention—perhaps he did not notice it in the papers—that the Minister for Industry had already taken action on this important matter. He had a meeting with the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Electricity Council on 26th January to discuss the issue of the billing and collection procedures of the boards. These procedures are the responsibility of the boards, but my hon. Friend wanted to express personal concern over the recent reports and cases.

The chairman of the council told my hon. Friend that he and the boards shared his concern and that the industry was carrying out a full review of its billing and collection procedures. The implications of this review, which have been given added urgency by these unfortunate cases, will be discussed at a meeting of the full Electricity Council on 9th February and at the council's meeting the following day with the chairmen of the electricity consultative councils. I assure my hon. Friend that the whole industry takes this problem most seriously.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has asked to be kept informed on further steps in this matter and he will make sure that these are kept in the forefront of the consideration that is given to this issue by those concerned. I hope that these remarks will allay some of the fears that have been expressed over this extremely distressing case.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) asked for examples of projects that had been brought forward under the capital improvement scheme. I cannot give him exhaustive lists at this stage but one example is the fact that only yesterday a transmission project at Heysham worth £1½ million was brought forward. I agree that this sort of project is rather more easy to bring forward quickly than some others. Nevertheless it is an example of the sort of project that we are hoping to bring forward under this scheme.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about various other stations such as the Isle of Grain. He pointed out that this was going ahead anyway and was not being brought forward under the emergency scheme. It is nevertheless going ahead. Sizewell B is a nuclear station which will be some time before going ahead, for we are anxious to ensure that we are making the right decision for the future, bearing in mind the balance of fuels to which I have referred. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no delay over the progress of this station.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central then asked about structural changes and wondered whether there would be a holdup in the production of structural changes in the industry as a whole. I repeat what my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry said; that we do not have any proposals in hand just now for any major reorganisation of the electricity industry. I wish to make this clear because we do not want those concerned to feel that they are operating in an atmosphere of uncertainty or that such an atmosphere is hanging over them.

The hon. Gentleman then asked about hiving off. I wish to make it clear that the consideration of whether, and to what extent, parts of the industry can be hived off is still very much under way and that no decisions have been made at this time. My hon. Friend will continue his consideration of this issue and in due course, if and when any decisions are made, he will make a statement to the House in the normal way.

I am sorry that I have not had time to answer all the questions that were asked and all the points that were made in the debate. I trust, however, this having been a valuable discussion on an important Bill, that hon. Members will give it a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Speed.]

Committee tomorrow.