HC Deb 03 December 1973 vol 865 cc897-9
13. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many days' worth of oil at the current rate of consumption is now held in reserve in the United Kingdom ; and how much is estimated to be in shipment.

Mr. Tom Boardman

As previously pointed out, assessments of oil stocks and oil in transit can fluctuate considerably over a short period, for a variety of reasons, and figures quoted on a week-to-week basis could be misleading. Notwithstanding the heavy stocking undertaken by consumers, the indications are that there has been no significant change in total oil company stocks during the last week.

Mr. Rost

Does not my hon. Friend agree that even a 10 per cent. cut-back to industry is already beginning to have a serious effect—which is likely to increase—on production and employment? Does not my hon. Friend believe that it is time for more immediate measures to cut back on less essential consumption of energy, by introducing immediate rationing to overcome the chaotic distribution position, by cutting back less essential lighting, such as street and motorway lighting, and cutting back TV transmissions to three hours a day? Would not these measures help to channel energy into the greater priority requirements of industry and to keep the economy afloat?

Mr. Boardman

We are doing everything we can to see that industry suffers the minimum amount of damage from the disruption of supplies, and regulations have been made to reduce electricity consumption. The appeal made by my right hon. Friends, myself and others for the maximum economy in the use of all types of fuel remains valid. If it is necessary to bring in more stringent measures to reduce demand, this will be done.

Mr. Varley

In view of the admission by the CEGB that it is reducing voltages to conserve oil supplies, the delay in the turnround of tankers, the Road Haulage Association's demand for rationing of diesel oil, the chaos caused by motorists scrambling for petrol and the difficulty of local authorities in getting oil supplies to heat schools and old people's centres, when will the Government stop dithering and take positive action?

Mr. Boardman

The hon. Gentleman should know that the voltage reductions are due to a reduction in coal supplies and the threat to the production of coal. They are also due, in part, to the action being taken by the electrical power engineers. Those are all part of the pattern that made it necessary for the CEGB to reduce voltages. To the best of my knowledge, no tankers are lying offshore waiting to discharge, nor is there a shortage of ullage.

Mr. Adley

As the oil supply situation is not just a short-term problem and as we are unlikely to be able to buy oil at the prices we have paid over the years, will my hon. Friend discuss with the Department of the Environment the indecent haste with which some years ago British Rail scrapped steam engines? Is he aware that in many countries the efficiency of the steam engine has been increased out of all proportion in the last few years, particularly in Czechoslovakia? Will he take this suggestion seriously and initiate discussions?

Mr. Boardman

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Douglas

Is the hon. Gentleman willing to comment on the current cost of imports of oil to this country? Will he comment on his discussions last week with Sheikh Yamani on the likely price if oil coming from OPEC countries to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Boardman

I am unable to give the hon. Gentleman any indication of cost, except that it is a matter of considerable uncertainty and it will certainly be higher than it has been in the past. Beyond that it would be premature for me to express any opinion about the price level of the rises that may ultimately take place.