HC Deb 20 March 1972 vol 833 cc1055-7
11. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress he is undertaking with his comprehensive review of the nation's energy policy to meet future demand with co-ordinated economic planning; and if he will publish a White Paper in due course.

36. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what consultations he proposes to seek to hold with interested parties in order to formulate an energy policy as a result of the Wilberforce Report.

41. Mr. Palmer

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has now decided whether to publish a White Paper setting out the Government's general fuel policy, following the recently announced increases in coal prices.

Mr. John Davies

Energy problems are kept under constant review. Recent developments in the coal industry clearly have an important bearing upon this work. I see no occasion to publish a White Paper in the near future.

Mr. Rost

Will my right hon. Friend's long-term review of the nation's future energy requirements take into account the need to apply more of our technology urgently towards obtaining greater efficiency in our fuel consumption so that we may prevent environmental pollution, produce our electricity more cheaply and ensure that our natural reserves of hydrocarbons are not exhausted?

Mr. Davies

I can assure my hon. Friend that all these matters are very much in the Government's mind although clearly main initiatives in all these fields lie with the various industries concerned.

Mr. Eadie

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that reserves of natural gas have a life expectancy of only 20 years and that the vulnerability of oil, whether in the North Sea or in the Middle East in a strategic sense, must cause concern? There is no problem about known coal reserves and at this moment oil is being used faster than it is being discovered.

Mr. Davies

These questions of security of supply are very pertinent to the matter of energy policy generally. On the whole, forecasts made a very long time ahead often prove to be entirely upset by experiences subsequently encountered.

Mr. Palmer

Does the Minister appreciate that some of us have been following these questions for a rather longer period than he has? Is not the House therefore entitled to a statement from the Govern- ment, perhaps a White Paper, setting out the latest energy position as the Government see it?

Mr. Davies

While I make no very great pretensions of longevity in this subject I should say that it has formed a major topic for me during the whole of my working life. On the question of a White Paper, the very fact that the issues involved are subject to constant and major variation militates against the usefulness of fixed positions adopted in a White Paper.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in the broadest sense of friendliness that I congratulate him very warmly on the way he presented his material last Friday on North Sea oil and the comprehensive dossier I received? We are anxious about the next generation of power stations and whether they are to be coal- or oil-fired or nuclear-powered. As these matters must be planned seven years ahead, is it not reasonable that my right hon. Friend should take the House of Commons into his confidence?

Mr. Davies

I would very much hope that my disinclination to publish a White Paper by no means meant that I would not take the House of Commons into my confidence, and that goes particularly for my hon. Friend and his friendliness. But I doubt whether the material in question is really a suitable matter for a White Paper.