HC Deb 20 March 1972 vol 833 cc1052-4
9. Sir F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has, in order to relieve coal miners of dirty, dangerous and difficult work, to expand and accelerate the conversion of presently coal-fired electricity generating stations to natural gas, oil and nuclear power.

Mr. John Davies

None, Sir, but I keep the question of basic fuel supply for electricity generation under constant review.

Sir F. Bennett

Does my right hon. Friend recall that only a very short time ago Lord Robens, who really ought to know, forecast that as a result of the strike 15,000—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—I am not reading; that is why I did not give the right figure—50,000 miners' jobs would be put in peril? Does my right hon. Friend take into account in his calculations the recent large find of oil and natural gas off the Welsh coast? Does he consider that these facts, put together, require the Government to undertake a complete reappraisal of the sources of power generation in the next decade?

Mr. Davies

I have seen Lord Robens' conjecture about employment in the mines. I realise that the various important issues that have arisen call once again for a review of the whole question of fuel and energy supply. This is being undertaken now. I look forward to taking into consideration the matters mentioned by my hon. Friend

Mr. Harold Lever

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if we are to relieve coal miners of dirty, dangerous and difficult work it is necessary simultaneously to provide them with the opportunity of engaging in clean, safe and easy work? Until that point, will he regard Questions phrased as this one is as a disreputable way of seeking to make reputable vengeful and ruinous action upon our mining workers?

Mr. Davies

I am clear in my own mind that the whole issue of energy supply raises matters of great interest to both sides of the House. I try to keep a level keel on this matter, as I hope the right hon. Gentleman does.

19. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will take advantage of the lower cost of coal-fired power stations, having regard to the fact that the costs of nuclear stations range from Berkeley at 1.27 old pence per unit to Wylfa at an estimated 0.67 old pence per unit, compared with typical coal-fired stations' costs at Cottam and Drax of 0.53d. and 0.56d., respectively; and if he will make a statement on his future plans.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

The figures quoted relate to power stations already completed or under construction whereas the choice of fuels for new power stations rests on their estimated cost six to 30 years ahead.

Sir G. Nabarro

That is exactly why I want a White Paper. Does my hon. Friend recognise that many of us have a deep interest in the matter, that it is indisputable that in the past 10 years the coal industry has been run down too far and too fast and that many of us want to see this position reversed during the forthcoming years, notably in connection with power station generation?

Mr. Ridley

The last White Paper in 1967 postulated a rundown in the coal industry. The C.E.G.B. advises me that at present oil-fired generation is on average cheaper than coal-fired generation. But all these factors will be taken into account in my right hon. Friend's review.

Mr. Harper

Since nationalisation nearly 500,000 men in the coalmining industry have been relieved of their difficult, dirty and dangerous work. In view of the Minister's reply to his hon. Friend that the coal-fired power stations are the cheapest, will he give further confidence to the coal industry by keeping open all the pits that it is possible to keep open?

Mr. Ridley

While my hon. Friend may be right in saying that coal is cheaper than nuclear power, in the C.E.G.B.'s opinion oil is cheaper than coal at present, even bearing the tax. We must await my right hon. Friend's decisions on these matters.

Mr. Rost

Will the Government resist the temptation to allow the C.E.G.B. to burn gas, at least until a more efficient method of burning it has been devised?

Mr. Ridley

This is a matter we must consider very carefully, because it has wide implications for fuel policy as a whole.

Mr. Harold Lever

Will the Minister study and bear in mind, when comparing necessarily notional cost estimates of the different fuels over a long-term future, the contrast between the estimates made by the nuclear industry for electricity generation and the actual outturn?

Mr. Ridley

I advise the right hon. Gentleman to read his own Government's fuel White Paper, in which all those calculations were made with singular lack of success.