HC Deb 19 November 1973 vol 864 cc927-9
9. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now make a statement on the supplies of indigenous sources of energy available for the oncoming winter.

Mr. Peter Walker

The majority of our gas supplies will be available from the North Sea. Electricity supplies will depend upon the available supplies of both oil and coal. The Coal Industry Act and the terms of phase 3 were constructed so as to give the maximum encouragement to increase coal production.

Mr. Eadie

As the Minister must now confess that we have an energy crisis and not an energy problem, which was what Government Front Bench spokesmen were fond of saying even so short a time ago as July, can he tell us what the Government are doing to gather information about our indigenous energy supplies? Can he tell us, too, what information is available about getting oil from coal? He knows that even using 1950 technology one can get 100 gallons of petrol and other derivatives from a ton of coal.

Mr. Walker

Research has been stepped up in this respect, as has international collaboration. The technology of the gasification of coal and obtaining oil from it is well known, but there is a considerable gap in terms of substantial production, and a big price differential. I agree that this is a matter which, in terms of the long-range prospect of energy supplies, should be examined carefully. A massive research programme is going on in the United States, and we are collaborating with European countries.

Mr. Skeet

Can my right hon. Friend give the House some indication of the likely increase in the price of coal, assuming that the miners accept the 16½ per cent. increase that they have been offered?

Mr. Walker

I cannot give a specific answer now, but I will find out and let my hon. Friend know.

Mr. Skinner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a few months ago the National Coal Board attempted to close the Glapwell Colliery in my constituency, a colliery that has reserves that would employ about 800 men and give the colliery a life of 10 to 15 years? Is he aware that the board is craftily making no announcement but is allowing the pit to deteriorate so much that it can hardly be operated at the present level? In view of his concern about pit closures between 1964 and 1970 and his concern about preserving the indigenous coal industry, will he tell the National Coal Board to give a fresh lease of life to Glapwell Colliery and so keep these lads at work?

Mr. Walker

I do not know the details of that pit but I know that, in view of the reversal of policy, the National Coal Board has substantially reduced the number of pit closures. There are generally good reasons for a closure, but I will convey the hon. Gentleman's views to the board.

23. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his policy to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of fuels to cover the energy needs of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Peter Walker

My long-term policy is to make the maximum use of the United Kingdom's indigenous resources and, where imports are needed, to do everything possible to ensure that they are obtained on satisfactory terms as to both price and security.

Mr. Wainwright

Will the Minister say whether the foreign companies boring for oil in the North Sea will not interfere in supplying oil to this country? Second, will he bear in mind that, on the last occasion when they had a confrontation with the miners, the Government dragged their feet, called in Wilberforce and swallowed the results of that inquiry, and now they are once more dragging their feet? Will the Minister do something to help the National Coal Board to get out of the present difficulty?

Mr. Walker

All oil from the North Sea will have to be landed in this country. That will continue to be the position. As regards the coal industry, we have already debated this matter, and the National Coal Board has offered what it can offer under phase 3, which has been taken into account.

Mr. Marten

In view of the immediate possibility of petrol rationing, will my right hon. Friend take into account, if that decision has to be made, the particular difficulties of people who live in country areas who have to drive long distances compared with those who live in towns, together with the fact that bus services in the country areas have greatly declined?

Mr. Walker

Certainly, in any rationing scheme which came forward that would be one of the matters taken into consideration.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is there any prospect of a White Paper or a Green Paper within the next 12 months on the future of energy policy as a whole in the United Kingdom, even for the short term?

Mr. Walker

I can readily understand the hon. Gentleman's desire to have such a paper. There are several major decisions in the course of consideration, for example in regard to nuclear policy. The uncertainty of changing events in the Middle East has made what might well have been a considerable change in any White Paper policy issued a few months ago. This is, therefore, a fast-changing scene. However, I shall look at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and see whether some policy statement could be made available.

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