§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Walker)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second tme.
May I first of all say that I believe that no one on either side of the House welcomes a Bill of this nature. We all regret that circumstances have meant that the Government have had to come to this House and ask for the wide-ranging powers contained within it. I believe the country and the House would also like to be aware of the background to the energy situation, particularly when it is asked to enact business of this nature.
It is particularly regrettable that we should be asking for these powers at this time when, on all possible theories, this winter should have been one in which we were faced with relatively small problems of energy supply. We started the winter with good stocks of oil and coal. We had a situation where the generating industry was able to meet demand and the decline that had taken place in coal production was levelling off. The combination of these events should have meant that energy supply would have been one of the smallest of our problems in the winter of 1973–74.
Alas, the war in the Middle East has created a considerable uncertainty over oil supplies to this country and the world as a whole. The industrial action that has taken place in the electricity power industry and the coal industry brings a great deal of uncertainty with it. The dependence upon coal and oil is basic and considerable. Over the years there has been a dramatic transformation in that dependence, particularly upon oil. It is interesting to reflect that in 1960 almost 75 per cent. of our energy came from coal and 25 per cent. from oil, with minor figures for other forms of energy. By 1972 our dependence on coal had halved and the figure was 37 per cent. instead of the 75 per cent. 12 years earlier. 35 The figure for our dependence on oil had almost doubled, from 25 per cent. to 48 per cent. of our total resources. The balance of 15 per cent. comes from natural gas and nuclear energy.
Faced with the likely prospect of an oil crisis in the Middle East it was right for the Government, I believe to decide as they did a year ago, to pursue the only sensible energy policy available to the country, which was swiftly to increase the supply of energy from every available indigenous source. I want to tell the House of the broad prospects of meeting to some extent our present problems and our long-term problems.
I come first to our oil resources in the North Sea. It is interesting to reflect that the first commercial field was declared commercial only two years ago. There are now six such fields, and on every possible conjecture of developments there is every chance that by 1980 two-thirds of our oil supplies will be coming from the North Sea. There is, alas, a popular misconception that it is all readily available and if only Governments would put in a little more effort it could be substantially speeded up. Unfortunately, that is not so. When for example, I was asked on Friday by a journalist in Leicester why was I exporting half our oil supplies from the North Sea I was able to ask him whether he realised how much we were getting from the North Sea. Obviously he, like many others who are of the opinion that it is there ready to be obtained, was not aware that we are likely to get virtually no oil until 1975, although by 1980 the volumes will have substantially increased.
It will be the policy of the Government to develop these oil resources as speedily and effectively as possible. We have a decision to make about future licensing arrangements. On the information available to us it would appear that the speediest development in the North Sea can be obtained by applying all available resources to the areas already under licence. In this way our energy situation in the 1980s will be completely transformed.
Our energy situation has already been transformed when it comes to gas. It is remarkable that in the North Sea we already have five fields in the southern basin and one in the northern basin. 36 We have negotiated with the Norwegian Government to purchase their interests in gas in the Frigg field, and by the mid-1970s we shall be obtaining five times as much gas from these sources as we were using in the pre-natural gas era. This has been a remarkable achievement by the gas industry, and it certainly relieves our immediate problems.
Mr. Tam Dalvell (West Lothian)
In the light of what has happened, do the Government have any qualms about deciding that the best use for natural use was to burn it? Might there not be some rethinking about whether it ought to be used as a raw material?
§ Mr. Walker
All of these are matters for constant review and consideration. At present we have provided the facilities whereby all of these indigenous resources will be examined with particular application to scientific and technological developments in those spheres.
The Coal Industry Act reversed the policy pursued by previous Governments and stopped the decline in the coal industry. Once again I wish to emphasise the difficulty of increasing coal production substantially and quickly. One can arrest the decline. The decline arising from collieries merely ceasing to contain coal is considerable.
Investment in new collieries has not taken place for some years. To get investment under way now, which we will do, will mean that production is increased only some years hence. The most exciting coal seam that has been discovered in this country recently is in the Selby area. We have quickly examined with the National Coal Board the speed with which the seams there can be developed. There is no doubt that it will be many years before such seams will be in full production, although when they are in full production it is hoped that there could be as many as three seams each producing up to 5 million tons a year.
Having endeavoured to encourage the maximum increase in our oil supplies, gas supplies and coal supplies, the one remaining factor is that of nuclear energy, which currently supplies 10 per cent. of the power generated by power stations. There are five AGRs under construction. In the past year we have reorganised the nuclear energy industry so that we can make decisions which will be far more 37 effectively and swiftly implemented than would have been the case under the previous organisation. The time scale is such, however, that if we make a decision early in 1974 about an additional nuclear power station it will be able to assist the situation only from 1980–81 onwards and not in this crucial five-year period leading to the substantial resources we shall be obtaining from the North Sea. There is no doubt that during the 1980s and 1990s nuclear energy will be making a very major contribution to our energy resources.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Secretary of State seems very definite about 1980 and onwards. Does he not recognise that there is an option that by going for Magnox reactors, even though they be somewhat old hat, there could be a Magnox station operating by 1979?
§ Mr. Walker
Even if one argues 1971 for Magnox without problems and without running into planning difficulties, one is still talking of the 1979–80 period. I am not ruling out going for Magnox. This is one of the systems which obviously we are examining as an option. If one decided to go for Magnox, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, a system which has already been tried and, therefore, the one with the fewest technical difficulties for British industry, it might be possible to have a system by 1979 instead of 1980. But once again, therefore, there would be no immediate contribution to the energy problem we are facing at present.
The other factor apart from supply is conservation of energy. Considerable savings will be made in the future. As regards domestic heating, with new building regulations up to 20 per cent. could be saved. I think that considerable savings could be made in industry and commerce.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
The Secretary of State is referring to increased efficiency following changes in the building regulations. Is he indicating to the House by implication that it is the Government's intention immediately to raise thermal standards in the building regulations? This action is very much overdue.
§ Mr. Walker
This is a matter for the Department of the Environment rather 38 than for myself, but the Government are considering changes in the building regulations to improve the heating efficiency of domestic houses. It could be one of the areas in which the Government will take further powers. Also they will use every means available to conduct new research into using oil from coal and other facilities.
It is important to realise that we have very considerable indigenous energy resources which will create a transformed position for our energy supply a few years hence. However, we have the more immediate and crucial problem facing us as a result of the position of Middle East supplies of oil which we need in the next few years and the present position of our coal industry.
On 24th October I informed the House of our stock position. I announced that we would take immediate powers to control exports. We urged the public to save as much energy as possible. This was immediately followed by action—particularly by nationalised industries, the airlines. Government offices and the public and industry in general—which has resulted in the actual consumption during the period since that statement being reduced.
I also undertook that we would see that the preparations for rationing were brought to a state of readiness so that, should rationing prove to be necessary in the months ahead, a carefully organised plan could then be implemented.
On 13th November, in view of the situation in the coal industry and the electrical power industry, the Government took emergency powers, and almost immediately orders were laid to restrict the use of electricity for space heating and display lighting.
On 19th November I announced that the Government considered it important to make a reduction of 10 per cent. on last year's consumption figures by both industrial and private users of oil. A reduction of 10 per cent. on last year's figures means for many consumers reductions of the order of 13 per cent. to 15 per cent. for this year's figures. This cut is now being implemented. For the private user of petroleum products, the potentialities for saving involved in the reduction of speed limits and the limitation of unnecessary pleasure motoring at 39 weekends are such as to make it unnecessary, in the Government's view, to reinforce the present level of reductions by bringing in rationing.
However, we do have a period of continuing uncertainty, first because of the developments of the coal industry. If coal production were fully maintained and we made full use of our existing stocks, I am told by the CEGB that it would be possible for it to save 50 per cent. of oil compared with last winter's consumption figures. This would be a saving of about 3.75 million tons of oil, and, together with the Scottish Board's figure, it would make a saving of 4.25 million tons of oil during the winter if we have available to us the full production from the coal industry.
This saving will not be available to us if coal production continues to be substantially affected by industrial action. Therefore, that is the first uncertainty. None of us can predict with accuracy the outcome of that industrial action, whether, as obviously we on this side hope—indeed I believe both sides hope—it will be quickly ended or whether it will continue or even escalate.
The other uncertainty is the Middle East. It is difficult to ascertain with any certainty the supply position to Britain and the world in the months that lie ahead. The British Government will do all in their power to achieve a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East and a full resumption in the expected oil supplies to this country.
However, the situation remains uncertain, and I want to say a few words about the stock position in the country and the deliveries of oil up to the present time to put this matter in its right context.
Our stocks of oil compared with last year remain relatively high, and likewise at this moment our stocks of coal. It is vital that we do not run these down to a danger level. If there are going to be further decreases in the supply of oil from the Middle East or a continuation of industrial action in the coal industry, it is vital that the Government operate a system of supply reduction which will enable us to keep British industry going to the maximum throughout the whole of the winter months.
§ Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)
Is not the Secretary of State being somewhat unrealistic? Since at present there is rationing but on a very haphazard, irrational and arbitrary basis, why does he not grasp the nettle and introduce rationing now? Is he not simply postponing a decision that he is bound to have to take in due course in any event?
§ Mr. Walker
No. Certainly not. In fact, there could easily be a situation where there was no need at all for rationing in this country, and where it was absurd to introduce rationing. Rationing does not automatically create fairness to everybody, and I challenge the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) to devise a rationing system that is considered fair to every firm, every business and every user in the country. In my judgment, when we are talking about the type of reduction that is necessary at the moment, there is no need for rationing and it is better to use our present system. But from the beginning of this crisis I have always said that if one needs to make cuts which are larger than we are making at the present time, one is getting to a situation where the unfairness and the difficulty require one to bring in a system of rationing. But we have not reached that situation at the present time.
To continue with the assessment, our oil stock position varies, but I am told that it is better than it was at this time last year. As regards deliveries, there are considerable problems in calculating what will happen. There is uncertainty about what will be collected from the individual Middle Eastern countries. If I may use an illustration, when I asked the oil companies early in November for their estimates of deliveries, they gave me figures which would have shown a big reduction in the deliveries of crude oil from the Middle East. But the latest figures which were given to me late last week show that, in reality, deliveries of oil from the Middle East in November were almost identical to the deliveries which they would have anticipated if there had been no Middle East crisis at all. That is not because at the beginning of November the oil companies were wrong in their calculations, but because they anticipated reductions from certain countries which 41 have not taken place. So there is uncertainty about the position. But while there has been virtually no drop in our deliveries of crude oil during November, there has been a drop in our imports of manufactured products from the Continent. Rotterdam has been particularly adversely affected by the embargo, and there is a situation of uncertainty there. Added to that, a very major factor in the stock position of certain products in November has been the temporary closure of the two major refineries of Esso for technical reasons. These have not been working, but I am glad to say that they are coming on stream again this month. When functioning properly, those two major refineries at Milford Haven and Fawley produce 600,000 barrels a day, compared with a total production here of 2 million barrels a day, so that that is a very big factor. Factors such as this vary from week to week, and one is, therefore, in a position of uncertainty.
When one thinks of the possibility of rationing, one wants to have the maximum flexibility. If there is peace in the Middle East, and the attitude of the supplying nations is such that during December and January deliveries to this country improve upon what is currently anticipated, not only will there be no need for rationing but one may even lift the present reductions. If, on the other hand, the situation deteriorates, as it could do—and it is beyond my power of prediction to say whether it will—I shall have to introduce a scheme of rationing. No scheme of rationing can be introduced quickly, because of the problem of distributing the necessary petrol coupons, which has now become a gigantic task. In 1956, when rationing was last introduced, there were 7 million vehicles, compared with 16½ million vehicles today.
Obviously, in any system of rationing there will be a basic allowance, and above that there will be a business allowance for people who need petrol essentially for pursuing their business activities. There will also have to be a system of supplementary allowances for people such as the disabled, and people who, due to the changing nature of public transport, would otherwise find it impossible to pursue their occupations. So it is a complicated business, and, from time to time when I have read in my newspapers that petrol rationing would start the following day or 42 on Tuesday week it has been apparent that there has been a complete lack of understanding of what is involved.
In these last few weeks, my Department has been preparing all the details of a petrol rationing scheme. We have reached a situation where the books have been printed and distributed to post offices throughout the country, and where the forms for applying for a business allowance have also been printed and made available. In the best of circumstances it would take three to four weeks to distribute the coupons and to receive and consider the applications. But during the Christmas period, when the post offices—which we are using as the main mechanism—are incapable of fully coping, that period will of necessity be substantially longer. Therefore, if I do not distribute the books of coupons I shall lose a very considerable amount of the flexibility which I really need. So although it may well prove to be wasted expenditure—something like £500,000 is involved in publicity and services, and more in the printing and distribution and in recruiting more staff—and although I hope that I shall have no need to introduce the scheme, I believe that if I am to be in a position to make a decision based upon up-to-date facts, instead of trying broadly to guess what might be the position five to six weeks hence, it is right to take the precaution of distributing the books and putting people in a position to apply for a business allowance.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
Will the Minister say what he is prepared to do, in the present twilight position, to discourage the use of vehicles with a high petrol consumption? Also, can he say what his potential rationing scheme will do to take care of such cases?
§ Mr. Walker
I shall come to the criteria and problems of such a scheme in one moment.
What I wish at present is for motorists to have available to them books of petrol coupons. These will not show the amount of petrol involved, because if there were a severe cut in our supplies from the Middle East the basic allowance, the business allowance and the other allowances would have to be pitched accordingly. If, on the other hand, I decided that it was right to move from the 10 per cent. cut to 43 something additional but not very substantial, then the basic allowance, the business allowance and the supplementary allowance would be more generous. But I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell), that it is vital in a period of uncertainty such as this, when, in any case, oil imports will add substantially to our import bill each month, that this nation endeavours to show the maximum prudence and saving in the use of vehicles and in the use of public transport, in which the hon. Gentleman is particularly interested.
Distribution of coupons from post offices will start on 29th November and will go through into the early part of December. All that is needed to obtain a book of coupons is to go to a post office with the log book, which will be stamped and the coupons issued.
In order to get this scheme on a sensible basis—and there will be no problem of rush if we operate it properly—we shall be using publicity. The days on which people will be asked to go to a post office, or to send someone else to a post office, with the log book will depend upon the initials of surnames. The forms that will be necessary in order to apply for a supplementary business allowance will be available in post offices, and when these are submitted we can start to consider applications. The taking of these steps will prevent my making a decision about rationing which could well be premature, and will give me greater flexibility with which to act. Naturally, if a rationing scheme is introduced it will need to cater for a wide range of special needs, such as essential services, domestic hardship, the disabled and essential business requirements.
Having established substantial stocks of oil and of coal before the present crisis, it is vital to see that these stocks are used to maintain industrial production. With a combination of the cuts already imposed, and the efforts of industry and individuals to economise in the use of fuel, if we achieve, as I hope we shall, a resumption of full production from our indigenous energy resources such as coal, and provided that there is no deterioration in the situation in the Middle East, we hope to make rationing unnecessary.
44 May I now say something about the various clauses in the Bill under which any implementation of a scheme of rationing would be used—
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Before the right hon. Gentleman does so, may I point out that a situation of real hardship already exists in agriculture? Many of us representing rural constituencies have received representations about the great difficulties experienced by farmers in relation to Derv, lubricating and other oils. Will the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and perhaps the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland, use the good offices of his Department to ensure that this vital raw material is available to this vital industry?
§ Mr. Walker
I appreciate that there is a problem in certain parts of the country. The right manner in which this should be tackled is for the person concerned in an area where there is difficulty and shortage to ascertain the position from the normal supplier. If there is any difficulty with the normal supplier, the person should contact the regional office of my Department, which will examine the situation. If our regional offices are contacted, we shall do our best to meet any specific problems.
This is a short enabling Bill the purpose of which is to allow me temporarily to control the production, supply, acquisition and use of petroleum and any substance derived from petroleum and any other substance used as fuel, and the production, supply and use of electricity. The Bill will be in force for the initial term of one year and will expire on 30th November 1974. This could be extended, if necessary, by Order in Council. It will give the Government flexibility in dealing with the longer-term situation.
This point is illustrated by the case of petrol rationing, which is not something which could be switched on and off to deal with the short-term situations. Whilst it would be possible to use the emergency powers to introduce rationing, it would be inappropriate to do so, and to some extent would be a prior judgment that emergency powers would be renewed. The actual introduction of rationing, as opposed to the preparations, will depend 45 on the powers which we are seeking by means of this Bill.
As to the long term, the Bill can also be reactivated by Order in Council. After the original term has expired, the measure will, so to speak, lie dormant on the statute book until the Government of the day find it necessary to invoke its powers to deal with an energy shortage.
I now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the substances to which the Bill applies—petroleum, any substances derived from petroleum, substances used as fuel, and electricity. Thus the controls extend to petroleum, coal, gas, electricity, lubricating oil, naphtha, and petro-chemical feedstocks.
§ Clause 2 provides that the Secretary of State may make orders regulating or prohibiting the production, supply, acquisition or use of any substance to which the Bill applies. This power will provide the statutory basis for motor fuel rationing, and it would also provide the means of controlling other fuels. The Secretary of State may also give directions to producers of the various fuels and petroleum producers as to their production and use, including the prohibition or restriction of the use of any material required for their manufacture. This would enable the most effective use to be made of the raw materials available. Directions may also be given to suppliers for the purpose of regulating the supply of any fuel on petroleum product, and this could specify the persons whom the supplier should or should not supply. Directions have been given to suppliers under the emergency powers restricting deliveries of petroleum products, and these directions could be given afresh under the Bill after it has received the Royal Assent.
§ Clause 2 also enables directions to be given to persons carrying on a business regarding the use which they may make of any fuel covered by the Bill. Power is taken to regulate the prices of petroleum and substances derived from petroleum. This provides a more flexible means of controlling oil prices in a scarcity situation than would be possible under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973. I particularly have in mind that it could be used without the waiting periods involved in the Counter-Inflation Act so far as retail outlet prices are concerned.46
§ Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to require the keeping of records and the furnishing of information by any undertaking relating to the substances covered by the Bill.
§ Clause 4 empowers me to authorise any person supplying or using the substances to infringe any relevant statutory or contractual obligation. An example of the way in which a statutory obligation might be launched would be if there were a reduction in temperature in work rooms below a minimum level. Authority may be given for the relaxation of certain provisions relating to the operation of public service vehicles, thus enabling the most effective use to be made of the vehicles and crews available. The relaxations would also have the effect of legalising cost sharing or fare paying in private vehicles.
§ Clause 4 in addition provides for an Order in Council to be made modifying an order under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973, the object being to arrange for the price of any petroleum product to be controlled under this Bill other than by means of the present arrangements.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
Under which clause will it be possible for directions to be given to the Civil Aviation Authority to compel it to bring into effect fuel-saving ideas which might save up to 2 million gallons if certain alterations were made at Air Traffic Control?
§ Mr. Walker
That comes under Clause 2 or 3. In reply to that point which my hon. Friend has shrewdly raised, may I say that my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping is conferring with the shipping offices and the aviation offices, as well as the other authorities concerned, to obtain the maximum saving in energy.
§ Clause 5 applies for the purposes of this Bill certain provisions of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactment and Repeals) Act 1964 which are necessary to supplement the Bill. These concern the nature of orders or directions made under the Bill ; procedures for notices, authorisations or documents ; the territorial extent of the Bill ; and the definition of offences involving false documents or false statements. Power is also given for duly authorised officers, if necessary, to obtain documents, if necessary by obtaining a search warrant. This power may be 47 necessary for the enforcement, for instance of the rationing of petrol.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Paragraph 6(e) of the explanatory memorandum refers to officers of a body corporate who may be guilty. Does this boil down to the act that if a senior member of an organisation or firm or other institution is found guilty, the buck stops with the senior member who actually knew of the offence created? How is this to be worked out?
§ Mr. Walker
I should like to ascertain exactly how that will apply. I will ask my hon. Friend to deal with it in his winding-up speech.
§ Clause 6 deals with penalties for contravention of any legal requirements imposed by the Bill and for the obstruction of any person exercising powers there under. Attempts and conspiracies to commit such offences are also covered. Persons guilty of an offence will be liable, on summary conviction, to a term not exceeding three months' imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding £400, or both.
§ Clause 7 provides that any expenses incurred by a Government Department will be paid for by Parliament. The main expenses in operating any actions which may be taken under the Bill will be incurred by Government Departments. Some of the Government's functions will be exercised by post offices, for instance, in issuing petrol coupons, and they will be reimbursed by the Departments concerned.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Will the post offices insist, as they should, that before they issue any coupons a current road fund licence as well as the log book must be produced?
§ Clause 8 applies the Bill to Northern Ireland which is obviously necessary, and also defines "petroleum".
§ Clause 9 allows the Bill to be extended to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands by Order in Council. Oil and other fuels used in those places come through the United Kingdom, and supplies might be similarly affected. The authorities in an island would exercise any controls needed, but would be able to use the Bill for statutory backing if they had insufficient powers of their own.48
§ Clause 10 limits the duration of the Bill to the period up to 30th November 1974, but provides for it to be extended, or reactivated after expiry, by Order in Council. The powers it confers would, therefore, be readily available at short notice if needed. But, to allow for parliamentary control, reactivation or extension would need to be approved by Parliament before the end of 28 days.
§ Clause 11 gives the short title and extends the Bill to Northern Ireland. Any necessary restrictions on fuel in Northern Ireland would be undertaken by the Ministry of Commerce on behalf of my Department.
§ I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the provisions I have outlined are necessary in a Bill intended to provide means to offset all possible eventualities affecting energy supplies, not only those we face now but in the future. The Government attach the highest importance to being fully prepared to take any effective action the situation calls for. We have already acted in the ways I outlined at the start of my speech.
§ Obviously, I very much regret asking for powers as wide ranging as those in the Bill. Naturally, both sides of the House wish that most of the powers suggested in the Bill will never have to be implemented or acted upon. But we are in a position of considerable national and international uncertainty. Energy is the very basis of the country's employment and future economic prosperity. It would be irresponsible not to take the powers and have them available to Governments so that they can act in what they consider to be the best interests of the nation.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
I thank the Secretary of State for his exposition of the Bill. His speech in introducing it was much more restrained than some of the speeches by Conservative Members over the past few days, to which I shall refer in a minute or two.
The right hon. Gentleman has given a full exposition of the powers he needs, and we shall not deny him those powers. We shall not deny the right hon. Gentleman the Bill, but we shall seek in Committee to amend and improve it. We hope that the Government will show 49 themselves open-minded, since the Bill gives them such massive powers, as the right hon. Gentleman said. We shall not seek to delay it, as it constitutes an admission that the Government and the country face an exceptionally serious crisis, not just an energy crisis but an economic crisis, which places in jeopardy the growth policy which is perhaps the last surviving veil of the Government's seven veils. Jobs and whole industries are in danger. The balance of payments may be heading for deficits which could make this year's gigantic deficit look like a surplus.
But in passing the Bill we must disentangle the real reasons for it from the phoney reasons put forward as political camouflage. The country faces two kinds of energy problem—short-term and long-term problems. The short-term problems are the disputes in the electricity and coal industries, which will pass. They are not deep-seated, though anyone could be forgiven for thinking they are, as they have been deliberately and unscrupulously distorted by the Government for political reasons.
The long-term energy problem is of the utmost seriousness and the gravest significance for the future well-being of everyone in these islands. It is the problem of oil, which is cynically played down to some extent, again for political reasons. The long-term and short-term problems are being tangled together, as they were, for example, by the Prime Minister in his speech at Nelson last Thursday, when he wrongly referred to the combined effects of the action of the miners and the Arab States. There is no such combined effect. Not a man-hour has been lost in industry as a result of the coalminers' overtime ban. Chaos threatens, certainly, and major changes in our lives are likely because of the action of the oil-producing countries.
At least the Prime Minister had the decency not even to refer to the power engineers in that speech. That is very strange, because two weeks ago the Home Secretary blamed the power engineers for forcing him to declare a state of emergency. That was a pretence which has now been abandoned. How could it be otherwise, as that dispute has had scarcely any effect?
It is certainly true—and we on the Opposition side are the first to admit it 50 —that the miners' overtime ban has had a much more discernible effect. But here again the contrast between forecast and fulfilment has been enormous. For example, in the debate on the State of Emergency 11 days ago the Home Secretary shivered our timbers, telling us that for the first three days of the overtime ban the loss in output had been 20 to 25 per cent. of normal production before the indirect effect of the overtime ban had been felt through, for example, the failures and damage due to lack of maintenance. He added :We must, therefore, expect a further progressive and rapid deterioration".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 687.]He also spoke about few pits working after the first week.
We can now see the situation after the second week. I do not deny that the overtime ban is biting and hurting, but up to yesterday the news was that the production loss was between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. That is pretty bad, but there are still stocks for power stations and domestic consumers which will last for another 10 weeks, even if there is a complete stoppage in the pits.
I want to make it plain that we on this side hope that it does not come to that. The situation is serious, and an end to the dispute is urgently needed, but so far there has not been the total disruption that the Government forecast when proclaiming their state of emergency.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, may I say, as he is not here, that the Government based themselves on the firm prediction of Mr. Gormley, who said that within a week there would be chaos in the pits and that many pits would be closed.
§ Mr. Varley
That may well be the case. I may have misunderstood the Home Secretary, but the House was given the impression that there would be that sort of disruption, and that no coal would be produced after a short time.
The real disruption is due to the uncertainty about oil supplies. Even the Prime Minister cannot blame that on Joe Gormley, although in his speech at Nelson he tried very hard. That is the problem which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has played down. His 51 two statements on the oil situation were complacent. The problem is now pre occupying the road hauliers, the merchant shipping lines, the airlines, the glass industry, the motor car industry and the rubber industry, and huge firms such as Hoover and Tube Investments and the garages face major difficulties. It is not too much to say that the very life and functioning of the State are at stake, because of the insecurity of oil supplies.
The crisis was bound to come. It was inherent in a situation in which the appetite for oil in the industrial nations was growing more and more insatiable while world inflation was convincing the oil producers of a simple economic fact—that oil was worth more untapped, underground than being shipped in tankers to Europe and Japan.
It is true that the situation has been brought to a head by the Arab embargoes and production cutbacks. Incidentally, whatever became of those smoothing assurances which so delighted the Foreign Secretary? I was reading in a newspaper the other day that Kuwait does not seem to have heard of them. In any case, whenever I see Sheikh Yamani or some other oil spokesman when they appear on television, they assure me and all others viewing that cutbacks were coming with or without the Middle East war. Those are assurances which we ought to take seriously, and we probably could rely on them. Yet the Government have consistently made light of the impending oil problem.
On 10th September the Prime Minister made a speech on energy in Wick—a very appropriate place. He said,I refer to the threat of an energy crisis.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say :Some of the talk about this threat may be exaggerated.The Minister of Industry, in a series of carefully orchestrated Press interviews, said something of the same kind. He told the same kind of tale. I have some of the quotations here. I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman by reading them, especially that headedWe are not running out of oil.The Evening News, very sensibly, headed that interview "Exclusive".
52 But perhaps they were both led astray by the Economist, which a few months ago published a special supplement entitled "The phoney oil crisis."
Yet the warnings came not only from the Opposition benches but from Shell Oil and specialist publications such as Petroleum Press Service, and even from the Conservative Political Centre in a doom-laden pamphlet by Mr. Peregrine Fellows. It is a devastating situation when, according to the latest estimates, the cost to the balance of payments next year of the rise in world oil prices will be anything from £600 million to over £1,000 million.
We come to the situation in which the Bill has been introduced. The Opposition think it necessary for it to be introduced. It is a situation of chaos and shortages, with widespread complaints from organisations such as the National Farmers Union and calls for petrol rationing from two big chains of filling stations. The Chairman of the Road Haulage Association has also called for petrol rationing. I read in the newspapers yesterday that even the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) was calling for petrol rationing. I suppose that we must take the hon. Gentleman seriously. But all those authorities, like the rest of the country, have no idea of what is the true situation.
I think that for once the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is being remarkably bashful. He might have strategic reasons for being bashful. I do not know. But he has certainly made some sunny forecasts about the effect on in dustry. We know that the CBI is very worried, as is the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. Even last week the Secretary of State had to make an uncharacteristic withdrawal in order to avoid a stand-up row with the oil companies. Yet the contrasts are clearly emerging. A school has closed through the lack of oil while fuel is wasted in private aeroplanes.
Certainly fleets of Rolls-Royces still travel around the West End of London. I read yesterday in the News of the World that the Prime Minister's Rover made a 200-mile round trip to Bristol for a carol concert rehearsal. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman could have gone by train. I do not know. It is no 53 wonder that the public and the Press are asking for action, in place of the ludicrous Government advertisements, some of which have been ludicrous in the extreme One of those advertisements suggests that we should solve some of the problem by drawing our living-room curtains, and so on.
I know that it is hard for the Government to steel themselves, but they must be much more honest and open with the country. They must put an end, if possible, to speculation by being absolutely truthful about the oil supply situation. Last Monday the Secretary of State, for example, told us that the stock position in the United Kingdom was over 70 days supply. Today he did not mention the stock position, but on Monday he said that it was 70 days' supply. Four days later, on Friday last, the Under-Secretary told the House that stocks were down to about 64 days' supply. This is extremely worrying. We ought to know the facts. What reductions can be expected in Arab oil imports next month? Will the reduction be 25 per cent. or 20 per cent.? Will the Government give industry reliable advice so that it can make plans?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The House should try to understand the situation. If I had been asked at the beginning of November to estimate the November figure on the best information available to me, I would have said that it was a 5 per cent. to 8 per cent. reduction. Now I am told that there has been no reduction. I am illustrating the difficulty. At present there are estimates of reductions of about 10 per cent. to 15 per cent.—probably 15 per cent.—in December deliveries. But once again, all that the oil companies will say is that this is a forecast based just on prenouncements by Arab leaders, and that it may be better or it may be worse. It is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman says.
§ Mr. Varley
I accept that it will be difficult. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman a little encouragement. I think that he is right to distribute the coupons. That is very sensible. If it is necessary to ration petrol, the public will accept it if it is sensible and fair. But I do not think that the public will forgive a Government who shirk their responsibility. This afternoon the right hon. Gen 54 tleman has made it plain that he is prepared to take action quickly.
We also want a frank estimate of what the shortfall in production will be and the effect on employment and the growth target. Again, this is difficult. I understand the difficulty, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I hope that Mr. Murray and Mr. Campbell Adamson, to whom I listened on the radio today, are right and that there will not be any serious cutback in production and employment.
But, most of all, the country needs a long-term energy policy. The Government must prepare and publish a plan based on a sensible projection of oil supplies. This must include a very honest estimate of the contribution to be made by North Sea oil. Last week, in a vague pronouncement, the Secretary of State declared that by 1980—just six years from now—we could be producing about two-thirds of our needs from domestic sources. The right hon. Gentleman repeated that figure today. Before too long we need to know on what assumption that is based. We also want to know how many nuclear power stations there will be, how many miners will be producing how much coal, how much oil we shall be getting from the North Sea, and so on.
I notice that the date for the first landings of North Sea oil in Scotland has now been put back to the spring of 1975. How much North Sea oil shall we keep for ourselves? The European question, which keeps cropping up, must be answered. For example, how much of that oil will go to Common Market countries? I nearly asked how much of this oil, if any, Holland will be allowed to have. Who will control the rate of production? King Faisal is phasing his production to suit his national interest. Shall we do the same regardless of the oil companies?
What about the pricing policy? The Government must come clean on this matter. Do they go along with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), supported by the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times, in saying that oil prices must be left to the workings of the free price mechanism? Or do the Government take into account the effect on their counter-inflation policy 55 of escalating prices, certainly the effect on fares, transport costs, and food prices, and the triggering off of the threshold mechanism built into phase 3 ? All these things need to be taken into account.
A policy for oil is essential. But, more than that, we need a comprehensive fuel policy, to maximise fuel production here at home, to maximise efficiency in the use of fuel, and to cut out waste. This calls for some kind of coherent policy for public transport, including a positive decision in favour of such systems as the Pic-Vic project in Manchester. It calls for a review of the road building programme, with new projections of how many cars there will be, how big they will be, and so on. It calls also for new building standards and higher levels of insulation. It calls for a re-examination of major air traffic projects in the light of fuel consumption.
There must be a complete reexamination of power station policy. There must be a decision about nuclear reactors which will ensure the quickest possible advance towards electricity generation by nuclear power, which in the end can be the only resource when fossil fuels are exhausted. But the decision taken must be the right decision, taking full account of the serious warnings by Mr. Ralph Nader and others about the possible hazards of the American light water reactor.
Here I give the Government some advice. Will they disregard the advice of Mr. Arthur Hawkins, the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, who has been consistently wrong on these matters? The Minister must look again at the plans for oil-fired power stations, such as the one at Inswork Point near Plymouth, in the light of the unreliability of oil supplies and the escalating cost of oil.
Power station policy must now be based both on the relative costs of different fuels and on the security of supplies. A temporary industrial dispute in the coal industry is not comparable to the certainty of a permanent short-fall in Middle East oil.
It is about time that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister stopped their unconvincing claim that they are the saviours of the British coal industry. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry 56 comes very late to this subject. His knowledge is superficial and based on briefs supplied to him by, I imagine, civil servants who have been set to work to dig up propaganda material—perhaps the same civil servants who invented those planted Questions when he was Secretary of State for the Environment.
The right hon. Gentleman is fond of telling us how many pits were closed and how many redundancies were caused between 1964 and 1970, though I do not remember his complaining about them at that time. My hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies certainly did. Perhaps he is aware of the famous speech made in the House in July 1967 by the present Secretary of State for Social Services, at that time Opposition spokesman on the coal industry. Far from objecting to pit closures, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) was anxious that they should be carried out humanely, as he put it, and that the industry should beslimmed down to a really competitive size".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July 1967 ; Vol. 750, c. 1877.]When the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was reproaching the Labour Government the other day for the closures which took place during their period of office, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) nodded his head in agreement. He seemed to be agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman's view. I have some news for the hon. Member for Rochdale. Not only did his party support those closures, but it wanted more of them at that time. Mr. Eric Lubbock, as he then was—at that time the Liberal spokesman on fuel, and still its spokesman, I think—said in the same debate :… in so far as it is socially and economically practicable the coal industry should be run down as fast as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July 1967 ; Vol. 750, c. 1940.]I am not blaming the hon. Member for Rochdale too much, because Mr. Lubbock was following a distinguished leader from the Opposition Dispatch Box, the present Prime Minister, who, on 1st December 1966, moved a motion of censure on the Labour Government. One of the reasons for his motion was as follows :… men are going out of manufacturing and exporting industries and back into coal mining, which is not an exporting industry.57 The right hon. Gentleman was in extremely constructive mood on that occasion, and he had a suggestion to put to the Government :In my opinion, the closure of pits should move forward as fast as possible, and faster than it has been doing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December 1966 ; Vol. 737, c. 658.]Let us, therefore, have no more nonsense from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about how they saved the coal industry. I remind the Secretary of State that there have been two Coal Industry Acts since his Government came to power. The first was introduced almost precisely three years ago, on 25th November 1970. It dropped two of the major provisions of the Labour Government's 1970 Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). Under Labour's Bill in March 1970, it was provided that the Minister should have power to compensate the board for losses incurred in postponing the closure of collieries and to compensate the electricity generating boards for the additional cost of using coal in place of other fuels. That was March 1970, three months before the General Election, and the Bill never became law.
Those provisions were dropped by the Eden-Ridley Bill of November 1970, which concentrated on hiving-off provisions and which was so damaging to the coal industry. We fought that Bill in Committee. My hon. Friends the Members for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) and for Don Valley (Mr. Kelly) will remember it well. We fought it in Committee for about 100 hours. I recall that the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was a member of the Committee, and he was very enthusiastic about his Minister's Bill. It took two years for the Government to put right the damage caused by that Act.
The Secretary of State ought to do a little more homework before lecturing us about coal. I have little doubt that, when the gag comes off, we shall see that the coal industry owes more to Lord Rothschild than it does to the Secretary of State.
In any event, we want to know what the Secretary of State intends to do to stop the loss of manpower from the coal industry, a loss caused not by redundancies but by miners giving up active jobs 58 in viable pits. What will he do about the situation in the Midlands, for example, which is described in the current issue of the Economist in these terms :While your correspondent was with a pit manager, one miner handed in his notice to take a job with Chrysler said to be at a basic rate of £52 a week. The day before, another man hald left to sweep floors at Chrysler for a basic £45 a week. Others had left for the shoe industry, although that has previously been turned down as 'women's work'.The Government keep asking the National Union of Mineworkers to hold a ballot on the National Coal Board's offer. But the men—600 a week—are voting all the time with their feet and getting out of the industry. They are walking out of an industry which is vital to the country's livelihood but which refuses to pay them a competitive wage. Everybody acknowledges that miners should be paid far more, but the Government repeatedly tell us that they cannot allow miners to be paid more than is permitted under the stage 3 guidelines.
We very much hope that a solution can be found, which allows the Government to say that stage 3 has been upheld, if that is what they want. But they should stop pretending that stage 3 is sacrosanct and inviolable. It is not. The Government say that it cannot be changed, but it is being changed by this very Bill. Clause 4(4) allows a modification of the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 with regard to prices. The reason, we are told, is that the Counter-Inflation Act does not allow the oil companies to put up their prices high enough fast enough. This, it seems, is unsatisfactory and needs to be put right, and that is why the Bill over-rides that holy of holies the Counter-Inflation Act. But the miners' complaint is exactly the same—that the Counter-Inflation Act does not allow their wages to be increased high enough, fast enough.
I hope that we are not to take it that the Counter-Inflation Act is sacrosanct, because that is what we are told again and again on pay, while as is pointed out in the Bill, it can be modified on prices. If that is so, the situation is not logical. There is no fairness about that, and I do not think that it can be justified. Next Thursday there might be one or two amendments which we can make to the Bill which would be helpful and make 59 it more even-handed. Clause 4(4) completely demolishes the Prime Minister's claim that in challenging the Counter-Inflation Act the miners are challenging Parliament. If that is so, the Government are also challenging Parliament by introducing Clause 4(4).
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The purpose of Clause 4 is to enable us to be tougher and far more quickly to apply price control to the retail outlets, which we cannot do under the Counter-Inflation Act.
§ Mr. Varley
But the right hon. Gentleman must admit that the legislation can be used the other way. The suggestion is canvassed time and again in the right hon. Gentleman's party that perhaps one way of dealing with the deteriorating oil situation is to ration oil by price. It could be used in that way if the Government decided. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. We shall watch the situation as it develops over the years to see whether his interpretation is the correct interpretation.
Some right hon. and hon. Members opposite have been trying to send shivers up our spines by threatening a General Election over the overtime ban in the coal industry. Even the famous Zinoviev letter made much more sense than that. If they want a General Election, they will have a General Election. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Certainly. If they want a a General Election, the sooner the better. A General Election would provide a very good opportunity to let them explain to the electorate how a two-week overtime ban by the miners has brought about a 25 per cent. cut in the value of the pound, a 40 per cent. increase in food prices, a 13 per cent. bank rate, a £1,000 million balance-of-payments deficit, an 11 per cent. mortgage rate, the doubling of house prices, the Housing Finance Act, the halving of the house building figures and all the other delights of "A Better Tomorrow".
However, an election, whoever won it, would not solve the underlying problem of this country. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) was perfectly right yesterday when he wrote, "You cannot dig coal with votes". I go even further. Even a Tory Member 60 for Ebbw Vale could not get an extra drop of oil out of Sheikh Yamani if he decided against it or that he would arbitrarily increase the price. This is a crisis, but it is primarily an oil crisis. The Bill is the first sign that the Government are taking the crisis seriously, and it is on that basis that we shall allow it through tonight.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) said more than once that the present crisis was about oil and not about coal, and yet he proceeded to devote the greater part of his speech to the coal industry. He jobbed back to a 1966 speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Jobbing back is always an interesting exercise, and, therefore, we should perhaps look back to the 1966 White Paper on energy, which, in effect, said two things : that there was no likelihood of an increase in the price of oil, and that there was no reason to think that we would face oil shortages. That was not a profound piece of far-sightedness by the previous Government.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield wrote his speech before listening to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Perhaps that was why so much of it appeared to be out of place. I agreed with the brief middle section of it in which he dealt with the oil crisis and oil shortages, but the political knockabout at the beginning and end seemed to be strangely out of line with the few brief remarks he made about the oil crisis. If it is right, as he said, that the life and functioning of the State are at stake, surely we on this side of the House are entitled to deplore the present action of the miners, because it follows that if we face an energy crisis the situation in the pits is also a threat to the life and functioning of the State and, therefore, to the well-being of every man, woman and child in it.
It is no good saying "But we have 10 weeks' stocks of coal", because if the situation is as serious as the hon. Member for Chesterfield painted it—and I think that he was right to paint it in those terms—we cannot run down those coal stocks. It is totally unrealistic to think about having 10 weeks' stocks of coal simply available to be burned.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no coal crisis if we have those stocks, but that we have a crisis because of the danger of the shortage of oil?
§ Mr. Edwards
The crisis arises from two causes. There is the crisis of oil and the added multiplier effect of the coal situation. It is clear that if we face a rundown of our energy sources we cannot use up those 10 weeks' stocks of coal and run down coal supplies.
I agree with the hon. Member for Chesterfield that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has sometimes been over-optimistic and has played down the threat too much, but it is clear that he has not been over-optimistic in his actions. I take this opportunity of congratulating him on the foresight which he and his colleagues have shown in preparing to meet the situation by building up oil stocks, by injecting £1,100 million into the coal industry, and by introducing the Bill.
It would be absurd to suggest that the Bill is welcome, but that it is vitally necessary no one can deny. There are among us people who have a curious tendency to play down the severity of the situation. Optimism about the outcome of the energy crisis can still be found in the most unlikely places—although it seems to have left the Stock Exchange in the last few few days. I do not share that optimism.
The optimists, when they are not just vaguely proclaiming that it cannot happen to us, argue that the Arabs, like the Labour Party, will collapse into disunity. They point to the fact that Iran, Iraq and Nigeria have failed to join the boycott, or they argue that the Israelis will be forced to give way and accept a peace settlement on Arab terms. Failing those two solutions, they speak of the counter-measures that we might take to put pressure on the Arabs. I hope that the optimists are right, but I do not share their optimism.
I see no reason to think that Israel will easily surrender all that she has fought for. I see no compelling reason why Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which are maintaining their revenues by higher prices, will easily be deflected from their course. In referring to a possible 80 per cent. cut in oil production in Saudi Arabia, Sheik Yamani said : 62You know what would happen then. A barrel of crude oil instead of being sold at, let us say, 3.50 to 4 dollars from Saudi Arabia … could be sold for 15 to 20 dollars. Also we could get more income from 20 per cent. production instead of our present level. It is the law of supply and demand.Even if the Arab States ease their most extreme pressure there is no compelling long-term reason why they should not restrict supplies to a figure well below that which the developed world needs to maintain output, if, as the Sheik says, they can maintain their incomes. We are, therefore faced with the possibility rather than the possibility that oil supplies will be severely restricted for a long time to come.
Whatever the long-term alternative energy sources may be—and, clearly, into the 1980s there are many—there is no possible way by which in the short term we can replace oil as the prime source of our energy requirements. We therefore face the threat of a world recession as a result of the oil cut-backs. We in this country cannot escape the consequences that others will suffer. Oil is an international business, and the oil companies, faced with demands from all their customers that they cannot meet, will not maintain supplies to one country at the expense of the others.
All this would be serious enough without the coal crisis. Confronted by this situation the Government would be wildly irresponsible not to take the powers contained in the Bill. If there is to be no immediate relief, each day's reserves are vital. Each day's reserves must be defended. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Chesterfield about the apparently sharp drop in production that has already occurred.
My right hon. Friend even today succeeded in being modestly optimistic, although less so than on previous occasions. I do not mean by that that there are no grounds for optimism, but I believe that when the situation is bad it is as well to say so. He spoke of the possibility of a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East. He spoke also of continuing uncertainty. As I have suggested, that clearly is there. I understand my right hon. Friend's reasons for refraining from introducing rationing and further controls sooner than need be. No one wishes to impose on industry the severe burden of a further cut-back, but 63 early action is infinitely preferable to late action, and I urge the introduction of petrol rationing if there is any sign of a further deterioration in the situation.
I welcome the announcement that coupons are to be sent out. My right hon. Friend need fear no criticism on that score. I welcome, too, the assurance from the Opposition that criticism will not come from them on that account. If we have to introduce rationing it is vital that it should be introduced when we need it and not be delayed by unnecessary administrative problems. Unless there is some unexpected international development, rationing should be introduced without further delay. I believe that an even larger cutback will be needed for industry as a whole, and, although that will have serious consequences, we should not attempt to disguise them from the nation.
There has been Press and BBC comment about exports of refined petroleum from this country. In the normal course of business some went out last week from Milford Haven. The Press suggested that it was absurd that we should be exporting petroleum at this time of crisis. It needs to be said that this is part of a two-way trade. I think I am right in saying that we import about twice the quantity of refined products that we export. If we cut off our exports we should risk the cutting off of those vital imports. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm this and that there will be no more criticism on that score.
I am concerned about the grim prospect that faces the rural areas. Unless special provision is made, the remoter areas where public transport has been run down will be in a desperate situation. I seek a further assurance from my hon. Friend that the rural areas will be in the forefront of his thoughts in devising the rationing scheme. In rural areas the whole life of the community depends entirely on transport by private motor cars. Many bus services have ceased. Without an adequate petrol allowance many of my constituents would be unable to visit shops, get their children to school, get to hospital and go about their daily business.
It is also true that some of these remoter areas depend on the tourist industry for a major part of their business. I am concerned about what an announcement of 64 rationing this winter will do to bookings in that industry. Having argued that we must introduce rationing and that the country as a whole faces hardship as a result of this crisis, I cannot and will not pretend that the tourist industry will escape from it. But the fact remains that we want to maintain our tourist industry, particularly at a time of balance of payments difficulties. Therefore, I hope that the Minister for Industry will be able to assure me that the problems of the tourist industry in areas such as the South-West and in many parts of Wales and elsewhere—areas which are entirely dependent on people coming down in their cars—are at least being considered.
Reference has already been made to the problems of agriculture. I know that a number of farmers have faced severe difficulties in obtaining supplies, and I welcome the assurance made by the Secretary of State that this matter is receiving Government attention. I noted his suggestion that farmers should get in touch with regional offices in the Department of Trade and Industry.
I wish to put in a special plea for consideration to be given to seasonal farming requirements. In many areas there are special seasonal demands at this time of the year, such as ploughing and all the rest of it, and it is important that the agriculture industry should be able to carry out these operations. Therefore, this aspect should also be given special attention.
I should like to draw attention to one special aspect of this situation, and that is bunkering oil for shipping. A serious situation is developing throughout the world, and recent comments in Lloyd's List have emphasised the problems which arise in terms of shipping. I plead with the Government not to attempt any discrimination against foreign shipping and to do everything in their power to avoid discrimination in other countries. We are dealing with what is essentially an international trade. If one country starts by saying "We shall supply only our own shipping", we shall face very real difficulties. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that he has taken note of the warnings of the shipping industry and that he and his Foreign Office colleagues are doing their best to bring this problem to the attention of other countries.
65 I believe that in the present situation my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would act in the interests of the nation if he curbed his natural, and at times sometimes excessive, optimism. In such a situation as this it is better to be safe than sorry. My right hon. Friend must maintain stocks at adequate levels, and as soon as those stocks are threatened he must act without delay. I urge him not to hesitate. I urge the nation to recognise that we face a major national crisis, and I urge everyone to respond accordingly.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) will forgive me if I do not wander into the Arabian Desert, with all its vicissitudes and uncertainties. We have heard the voice of oil. I hope to raise the voice of coal.
I am convinced that the crisis the country now faces could have been ridden quite well had we not been faced with the imponderable problems over which we ourselves have some control in terms of the coal industry. In commenting on the situation as it affects the coal industry, I do not wish to exercise Parkinson's Law and occupy as much time as is allotted to me by the use of verbiage. I shall be as brief as I can.
I believe that it is the action of Her Majesty's Government which has bedevilled the situation and made this Bill necessary. It is the inflexibility of phase 3 which has led the Government into this confrontation. The factors which influenced the thinking behind the Wilberforce Report and led to the settlement of last year's difficulties in the coal mining industry are in greater evidence today than they were at that time. Men are leaving the pits in greater numbers and there has been a worsening of the parity situation since the Wilberforce inquiry. Certainly the inflexibility of phase 3 has forced miners' leaders into the present situation. Then, certain people, having created this situation, arrogated to themselves the right to dictate to the National Union of Mineworkers how it should run its affairs.
It is said that the union should conduct a ballot on the terms of the present offer and that by not taking such a ballot it is acting in an undemocratic way, since 66 it is challenging the authority of an elected Government and bringing itself into contempt of the law. The National Union of Mineworkers has already carried out a most democratic survey of the attitude of its members to the present action. If Her Majesty's Government require a secret ballot to be taken, let them have the powers which the law provides and take the ballot themselves. Let the dire consequences of taking this step rest on their shoulders and not on the shoulders of the NUM leadership.
I have no doubt what the result of such a ballot would be. I held meetings in my constituency over the weekend and I spent two and a half hours at a meeting last night in the village of Edlington with miners and their wives from the Yorkshire main colliery, one of the largest collieries in the country. I found in all cases a resolution among the men—a resolution as firm as anything I have ever witnessed—to stand together on the overtime ban until there is a sign from the Government that they are prepared to examine the miners' case outside the rigidities of phase 3. This was backed one hundred per cent. by the wives.
I advise the Prime Minister to get down off his horse when he meets the miners' leaders on Wednesday and to take the mail off his fist. The country faces many difficulties—and many of them were referred to by the hon. Member for Pembroke—in energy matters. We can do very little about some of these matters, but we can do quite a lot about others. I refer to the problems which face the mining industry. I want the Prime Minister to talk to the miners' leaders about the way in which a settlement can be reached—not the way in which it can be fitted into his preconceived ideas. When these ideas were embodies into the law—a law which was repugnant to more than half the adult population—the Arab oil dispute had not even been heard of by many people.
Those hon. Members who are ex-miners, and who spent many years in the industry before coming to this House late in life, warned successive Governments about the dangers of relying upon this source of cheap oil, which has now dried up. No notice was taken of the warnings. Instead the Government took notice of the experts, and the experts were 67 wrong. What did the United States expect the Arabs to do? Did not they expect that this kind of oil weapon would never be used? Did they not think that the use of what we sanctimoniously call sanctions would not be used at some time by the Arabs? Because the United States have lost their military hegemony in that region there is a force of equal balance which now challenges the United States military authority and the Arabs are now able to exercise this discretion. We have to live with that fact. We are not in a position to alter it. The miners' group in this House have warned successive Governments that this situation would arise.
Some people, probably resting in a concrete cave in Millbank, or in some similar place, decided to write off coal, and pits were closed as fast as they could be closed with decency and what is called a social responsibility. Now the industry, which we asked should aim at about 200 million tons—a figure that was later changed to 183 million tons, is down to less than 130 million tons. It is not only the productive capacity of the industry which regulates the tonnage produced but also the number of men available to man the machines and to produce the coal.
In my constituency there are five modern pits, all highly mechanised. Some have an annual output of more than 1 million tons, and one of almost 2 million tons. I assure the Government that these pits are entirely dependent on overtime working. They cannot operate without it, because the manpower is not available, owing to men having left the pits for more amenable working conditions and better wages. It is as simple as that.
The manpower difficulties in the pits cannot be rectified overnight. If the Prime Minister says on Wednesday that the Government are prepared to examine the situation outside the rigidities of phase 3 there will be a possibility of at least retaining the men at present in the industry. If Wednesday's meeting results in the conditions of service and wages being enhanced, so as to be similar to what miners can get in other industries, men may be attracted back to coal mining.
Governments have for too long traded upon the traditional loyalties of the 68 miners. During the war the miners were told that the whole future of the nation rested on their shoulders. Before I went into the Army I was with the miners. Their shoulders were bent, bearing the great load of producing coal day after day, because they believed in the nation that they were serving. After the war I returned from the Army to the pits. We were then faced with the idea that the pits should be nationalised, and would belong to the nation. Again, the men served loyally in the pits to preserve the economic strength of the nation, but they fell lower and lower down the salary scale. They did not get the wages to which they were entitled.
Nationalisation took place in 1947, when flags were flown at every pithead proclaiming the great occasion. Improvements were carried out in the industry, but they did not compare with improvements in other industries. Men were leaving the industry, so a ring fence was put round it to keep them in. That was the only way in which the labour force in the mining industry could be kept intact, so as to give the nation the coal that it required.
Then there was a Labour Government, and we put our trust in them. The miners thought that this was their Government, but the same thing happened again. The experts at Millbank, with the same cockeyed thinking, favoured nuclear power and the permanence of cheap oil. Only the simple people, who had never been to university, but came straight to this House from the pits, told the House what would happen—and, by Heaven, it has happened. We are faced with a crisis. The crisis is the reason for the Bill.
No hon. Member would stop a man from leaving an industry which did not afford him a reasonable standard of life, so that he could go into another industry and his family could live at a higher standard.
The miners have taken this sort of treatment too long, and are leaving the industry at a rate of between 600 and 700 a week. I warn the House—as well as the Prime Minister—who is not present, but I hope he will hear my voice—that there will be a coal shortage even if the overtime ban is abandoned tomorrow. There will be a coal shortage because of 69 the situation that has developed in the Arabian desert.
There will be a shortage of fuel and energy for a long time and, therefore, it is important that on Wednesday we should get away from rigidity and inflexibility and the complete ignoring of the facts of history. We should get down to negotiation, rather than trying to fit into a preconceived idea the kind of settlement which the Prime Minister and his colleagues think they can force the miners to accept.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
The House has heard an interesting dissertation from the brief prepared by the National Union of Mineworkers and given by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley)—
§ Mr. Skeet
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will listen a little further. He puts the entire responsibility for this situation on the Government. This Government provided the miners with one of the best charters in their history in the 1973 Coal Industry Act. Also, since we came in, post-Wilberforce, the miners have had a 21 per cent. increase. Earlier this year, they got an 8.3 per cent. increase. If they accept this latest offer, they will get no less than 16.5 per cent.—
§ Mr. Skeet
If the hon. Member does not know the facts about this offer, I am very sorry.
The Labour Government, between 1965 and 1970, let the miner fall from third to twelfth place down the league of earnings in manufacturing industry. They provided the pit into which the miners have fallen ; this Government are doing their best to rescue the miners from this pit and put them back at the head of the league. Rises of 21 per cent., 8.3 per cent. and 16.5 per cent. are not bad to 70 start with. Also, the Coal Industry Act, 1973, provides grants in aid of pit closures, redundancy payments schemes, increased pensions, methods for promoting the sale of coal and regional grants. What could be better than that?
I hope that the hon. Member for Don Valley does not support the views of Mr. Lawrence Daly, the Secretary of the NUM, who was quoted in the Sunday Express over the weekend as saying :We are not going to Downing Street to be told by Heath that we have to accept the Coal Board's offer. It will be the other way round—we shall tell him that we make no apologies for breaking Stage 3 of the incomes policy. We can break the policy and get a withdrawal of this legislation altogether.I have never known such dictatorship in all my life. Are the Labour Party and the trade unions trying to rule this country, or the constitutional organs at Westminster, operating through 620 elected Members?
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
The hon. Member has referred to what the Government have done to improve the miners' economic position. If the Government have done so well for miners' wages, why are 700 miners a week leaving the industry?
§ Mr. Skeet
Many people in the industry today will probably find a better life elsewhere ; this is why they are going. If I were asked whether I would work in a mine, I would say that, for the work they do, they are remarkably good men. Many of the younger element are leaving and the older men are remaining in the pits. The last time we debated this, I said that we would have to find new technologies to help the miners. Our aim—I think that I can speak for the Government here—is to put the miner at the head of the earnings table—but by degrees. It cannot be done all at once and it cannot be done in phase 3.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman has used strong language. Which laws are the miners now breaking, and wherein lies the threat to the Constitution? Will he spell it out? If he re-reads his speech in HANSARD, he will see that he said that they are challenging the Constitution. I should like to know what laws are being threatened by their action.
§ Mr. Skeet
The right hon. Gentleman just not listen. I quoted Mr. Lawrence Daly as saying :It will be the other way round—we shall tell him that we make no apology for breaking Stage 3 of the incomes policy."—which has been passed by this House—We can break the policy and get a withdrawal of this legislation altogether.The right hon. Gentleman has made his contribution over the weekend as well. He said :The Labour Party will resolutely support the unions in their efforts … We shall support the engineers because they are defending the basic rights of democratic trade unions. Their objection to the Industrial Relations Court is a conscientious objection …In other words, one can oppose any legislation passed in this House simply on conscientious grounds. If we decided to oppose nationalisation measures on conscientious grounds, what a mockery we should make of democracy.
§ Mr. Benn rose—
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
If the hon. Gentleman's argument is logical, can he tell me why, immediately after the 1951 election, the then Conservative Government repealed the Lewis Silkin Town and Country Planning Act?
§ Mr. Skeet
The hon. Gentleman is asking me about other subjects, which we can debate another time, but we are dealing with an energy policy today. However, I shall be delighted to discuss these matters with him in the Tea Room.
I certainly support the idea, proposed by Labour Members, of a comprehensive fuel policy. The 1967 policy is totally outdated. The mining industry has a 72 place in our economy, but it should be told what it is. We should like to know from the Minister whether we are to have the productivity capacity target of Lord Robens—an extremely high rate, which has been rejected by all parties, including Labour. What exactly are they to mine in future? What would my hon. Friend say will be the yield from the North Sea by 1977—1 million or 1.5 million barrels a day?
After all, all the fuels will have to be fitted in, and there are an enormous number of uncertainties. Are we to pursue the line begun by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)? I say that rationing is imminent and necessary. Company allocations, good though they can be, are defective. I agree that it is a haphazard form of rationing in which one can come off well or badly.
Just before I came into the Chamber, I had a phone call from my local branch of the NFU in Bedfordshire about a shortage of diesel fuel. Four farmers in the north of my division are concerned about this—Messrs. Alcorn, Sheard, Osborn and Church, whose holdings cover 2,500 acres. They had hoped to get 90 per cent. of their allocation but have been offered only 10 per cent., on which they would have to operate their tractors, Land Rovers and standby generating for milking machines. That would be totally impracticable.
Their supplier is Esso-Cleveland. The Secretary of State said that the Esso refinery has been having technical difficulties. But cannot this large company provide the necessary fuel supplies? When these farmers contacted the regional office, they were told that they could be given no guidance and no further advice. I hope that the Minister will look at that and report back.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)
Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind the advice given by the Department and by my right hon. Friend that any applicant who goes to his supplier without success should then go to the regional office where no doubt he will find satisfaction.
§ Mr. Skeet
I repeat that they went to to the regional office in London, which was able to give them no further guidance. That is one of the difficulties. If my 73 constituents are able to get a greater allocation through the Department than 10 per cent., that will be extremely satisfactory.
We have a similar situation with supplies of gas-oil, required for central heating ; where not only have rebate schemes been cancelled but where anyone taking less than 1,000 gallons has to pay a surcharge. As a result of the shortage of gas-oil, many consumers may have to pay a very high premium price. My second point, therefore, is that this is a multi-fuel crisis and that there are too many uncertainties involved.
My third reason for calling for immediate rationing is that prices are advancing rapidly. Based on the Teheran and Tripoli agreements in 1971, posted prices rose significantly. They were followed by the Geneva agreements when prices went up by 8 per cent., and then on 16th October of this year they went up again by 70 per cent. Dr. Khene, the Secretary-General of OPEC, has indicated that prices of crude oil are likely to go up even further, and no one knows where this trend will end.
According to Mr. Abdul-Rahman al Attiki crude oil is probably worth as much as 15 dollars a barrel. Coastal States Gas & Oil Corporation is reported to have offered the Nigerian Government between 16 and 17 dollars a barrel. Though true market prices are appreciably lower, i.e., 5 dollars a barrel, spot prices have brought chaos into the market. Can we possibly afford to buy oil at these high prices?
In support of what I say, one has only to refer to the Economist of 17th November. Dealing with commodity prices, it points out that we are importing crude oil at the rate of 102 million tons a year. At £9 a ton this worked out at £914 million in 1972. Taking the 1973 figure at double that price, it will work out at £1,804 million which would be the total cost of the commodity. The OECD has evaluated its figure. It says that the additional burden would be of the order of £520 million. According to the Financial Times it could be anything between £600 million and £1,000 million.
One would think that the principal reason for rationing was not because we could not get supplies but because the cost was becoming too high for the country to afford. Yet we were told by 74 my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development on Friday that he was anticipating next year a surplus on the balance of payments. How he can imagine that we shall have any balance next year I cannot understand, bearing in mind the critical situation that we face this year with commodity prices and the additional liability that we shall have to carry through oil imports.
My next point concerns our stocks. This is where I find it difficult to follow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He said that November deliveries from the Middle East were identical to what they would have been had there been no crisis. I pointed out just now that one of our principal suppliers was Saudi Arabia. The September rate was 8.5 million barrels a day. Unfortunately, because of the allocations, that was cut to roughly 6 million barrels a day. In November the Saudi Arabians were scheduled to deliver just over 9 million barrels a day. Clearly that country has been cutting down its exports to the Western world, including ourselves, and we are a leading importer from Saudi Arabia. A similar situation applies to Kuwait, another country from which we import heavily. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will tell us whether any deficiency from this quarter will be made up from Iraq, which is not participating in the cuts, or whether he has made arrangement with the Iranians whereby additional fuel supplies will be made to the United Kingdom.
There are many uncertainties surrounding the subject, including uncertainties about coal. If the miners decided to call off their go-slow or whatever it may be termed, might not they say that they intended to constrict supplies in order to advance prices? The other day when I asked the Government what would be the price of coal, they had no idea. It may be so substantial that oil will be able to compete with it.
The other perfectly understandable point is that when oil comes to the United Kingdom under European contractual terms it must be moved about in order to assist all countries who are similarly affected and to facilitate refinery balance.
In my view the Minister should look carefully at stocks. He should unburden his soul to the House and say whether he is satisfied with the coal stock situation. 75 In the first week we were 20 per cent. down. In the second we were 25 per cent. down. In the third week we may be 30 per cent. down. Is my hon. Friend prepared to say whether the situation is likely to improve or to worsen? Is he prepared to say that we are likely to have another month of the present situation and that if it goes on we shall have no picketing at coal mines and power stations?
I have done my best to elicit the stocks of oil available. But is my hon. Friend prepared to say that, with stocking up by the public, our reserves have not fallen below 64 days' supply? How long is it likely to last? My own evaluation is that we will have reached a critical situation by the end of January or the beginning of February and that to introduce rationing at that stage will be too late.
My advice to the Government is that it is of fundamental importance that we introduce rationing almost immediately in order to conserve what we have because of the multiple difficulties that we face and because we have to protect our balance of payments which is in jeopardy largely because of the increased prices that we have to pay, bearing in mind too that prices will not fall even with a settlement in the Middle East.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I regard the Bill as necessary, though it is not thoroughly welcome. I do not believe that anyone will welcome it, but obviously it is necessary because it would be extremely foolish to run through what stocks we have only to find ourselves, at the end of the day, having to ration a fuel of which we have no reserves.
It was for that reason that I took the Minister to task in the course of our debate last week for his somewhat dilatory attitude about his rationing proposals. Now we have certain proposals before us. They are not in the Bill, but the Bill will enable the Minister to introduce them and the Secretary of State told us today that he was arranging for the printing of coupons.
It would be extremely helpful if, a little time before rationing became essential, we could have some kind of discussion document, so that some of the snags could be ironed out in advance. In this context I reinforce two questions 76 which have been asked of the Minister from his own back benches regarding the rual areas and the holiday trade.
In the rural areas there is a real problem which cannot be solved by the kind of solution that was reached the last time that we had oil rationing. People living in rural areas are far more dependent on petrol than they were in those days. They are totally dependent on it for getting to work. That is certainly true of the majority of my own constituents. I should like to know a little more about the coupons that are being printed. Are they intended to allow a straightforward mileage allowance to everyone for each week or month, or are they intended to allow a straightforward gallonage?
I should like some information about the holiday industry. I admit immediately that though I represent a holiday industry area, neither I nor my constituents could claim that holidays were the highest priority for motorists next summer. Nevertheless, whole areas of this country will be disastrously affected if holiday makers cannot get there because of cuts in petrol supplies. Indeed, as a result of Beeching and various cuts made by Governments of both major political complexions, it is now possible to get to only one resort in my constituency by train, and that on a somewhat irregular basis. Others would be entirely cut off. Most would be cut off by many miles of difficult and expensive motoring. Therefore, I should like some information on what the Government are planning to alleviate the problem as it will affect holiday resorts which are so dependent on the motorised tourist.
I support the Bill because it is essential, but I hope that we shall not need all the measures that it would allow the Government to bring in. This is an emergency measure and it was treated in that sense by the Secretary of State when he introduced it.
I recall the last emergency measure. Just after the Suez crisis I was doing National Service as a fighter controller. Luckily, for me there were no fighters to control, so I spent the time reading all the books that I had not read. One was "The Wealth of Nations", which I had not got down to reading beforehand. There are some salutary lessons 77 to be learned from "The Wealth of Nations", for dealing with what I believe will be a long-term crisis. We may be discussing a short-term crisis, but a long-term energy crisis has been brewing for many years, although not too many people have been able to see it.
The long-term crisis is of much greater importance that the short term, so let us not shelve the problem as we did after the short-term crisis following Suez. We must not forget the long-term problem of energy supply.
In that context, I should like to ask the Minister about the Government's thinking on this matter. Broadly speaking, I agree more with the Secretary of State than with the Opposition spokesman on economic affairs about the need to grow out of our economic problems.
Let us consider the growth energy equation. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), opening for the Opposition, mentioned Lord Avebury. I should like to pay tribute to the new President of the Conservation Society—Eric Lubbock, now Lord Avebury—for his presidential address on energy conservation. It was quite clear that the world was heading for shortages of crude oil long before the Middle East crisis, so Middle East politics have merely accelerated the process. America's oil imports will rise from 165 million tons in 1970 to 900 million tons in 1985. During the same 15-year period Western Europe's oil imports will rise from 600 million tons to 1,200 million tons—double the figure. Japan's imports will treble, from 200 million tons to 600 million tons. The only possible source for these enormous increases in supplies of oil is the Middle East, and at best one can say that that area is politically unstable.
Bearing in mind the armaments budgets of the countries making up the Middle East, one sees that political instability is almost certain to lead to one, if not more, major bust-ups. Leaving aside the political instability, we may be in for something worse—the determination of the Arabs, for economic reasons, to keep their oil underground. It is not only Mr. Harry Hyams who can learn a thing or two about leaving resources unused. We must face that problem. Indeed, it is already with us.
78 The President of the United States yesterday, as reported in today's newspapers and on the news programmes this morning, said quite a deal about America's self-sufficiency in oil. For all his brave words, I do not believe that it is possible for America to be self-sufficient. Even making the most optimistic assumption about the Alaskan oilfields, if the pipelines are built and work flat out up to 1985 they may just produce 8 per cent. of the United States domestic oil consumption.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I shall come to the Athabascar tar sands reserves later. My information is that it is unlikely, with present day technologies, that oil from Athabascar tar sands would be economically viable under about 10 dollars a barrel. Of course, I would not mind betting that we shall reach that level before long. I shall come on to those reserves later. The figure that I quoted from the Alaskan oil fields of 8 per cent. of United States domestic consumption by 1985 is little more than one year's growth of America's domestic consumption.
Are we aiming to be self-sufficient in oil? At best, by 1985 we shall have about 250 million tons a year from the North Sea, which is far more than the Government are officially estimating. That is about the most optimistic forecast that one could possibly make. Even at that rate, we would be self-sufficient for only a few years from 1985 onwards. I should like to know how long the Government believe that period of a few years will be. Will it come in 1985?
It would be nonsense to suggest that self-sufficiency in oil is a safeguard for this country against the oil economics of the world market place. For example, the Secretary of State said that we would have considerable energy resources a few years hence. Is the right hon. Gentleman right to think in those terms? We cannot exist in an oil fortress. There is a world market and value for oil, and there will be by 1985.
79 One thing that I learned from Adam Smith—I might not have learned this if there had not been an oil crisis after Suez—was that if we were to produce enough oil from the North Sea for our own needs we could hardly use it if its value was substantially greater by selling it abroad than using it here. By using it ourselves at well below the world market price we would be subsidising our own industry and might add less to this nation's wealth than by selling it abroad. That these are perfectly orthodox economic considerations, is obvious from the cheers of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) from a seated position. We cannot, therefore, rely on using our North Sea oil reserves at less than the world market price in 1985, or whenever.
I now come to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) about the substitution of other unconventional oil sources—Athabascar tar sands, shales, and the conversion of coal. An enormous manpower cost is involved in present-day technologies. I am the last person to suppose that such technologies will last for ever. Necessity will almost certainly breed considerable inventions in this sphere.
I do not doubt that technologies will improve, but even if they are improved the investment required to get the oil up and out to the world will be enormous. We cannot dodge that question. There is considerable doubt about the economic price at which the oil would be viable. The hon. Member for Bedford said that it would be 4 dollars a barrel, but I have seen estimates of as high as 10 dollars a barrel, and it could be more.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I do not doubt that the North Sea oil reserves will make a substantial difference to our balance of payments and to the wealth of this nation. It may be that whichever Government are in power when this tremendous benefit starts to flow will remain in power 80 for 30 years, because we shall have solved our economic problems, but I wonder whether one should be as optimistic as all that.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I do not suppose that I shall be heading it. The hon. Gentleman will notice that I do not use the words "I" and "me" as often as the Secretary of State did this afternoon.
Leaving aside short-term and crisis considerations, what are the prospects for the future? Let us suppose that the present measure leads to a reduction in the rate of world demand for oil from an 8 per cent. per annum increase to a 5 per cent. one. Mr. Warman, the Exploration Manager of British Petroleum, has produced an interesting calculation on what that would do. Assuming that new reserves can be discovered of 20 billion barrels a year—and that is equal to one new North Sea every two years—world production will continue to rise until 1985, and will decline from then onwards. He concludes that demand cannot be met after about 1978.
Mr. Warman also confirms that unconventional oil resources cannot close the gap significantly, and I remind hon. Members that the United States National Petroleum Council estimates that production from shale, tar sands and coal will be about 75 million tons by 1985. That is 40 per cent. of the increase in world oil consumption between 1971 and 1972, but nothing like 40 per cent. of the increase that will be necessary by 1985.
We come next to the question of closing the energy gap by other means. What is the situation with regard to nuclear energy? I do not believe that we are in for any miracle. World energy consumed in 1972 was the oil equivalent of about 5,078 million tons. If that is increased by 5 per cent. per annum the result will be 10,320 million tons in 1985. In other words, in 1985 one year's increase will be 517 million tons.
I should like to know how many power stations it will take to generate the additional amount of nuclear energy that we shall need in 1985. How many nuclear-powered stations will be needed to produce 517 million tons oil equivalent? I calculate that 225 AGRs will need to be 81 constructed to meet the increase up to 1985, and I ask the House to think of the huge investment that will be involved.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
Can the hon. Gentleman give that in terms of megawatt capacity?
§ Mr. Pardoe
Not offhand, but I shall give the hon. Gentleman the figure afterwards in the Tea Room. I have the figure in my notes, but I shall not set it out now.
An enormous amount of investment will be needed, and one has to consider the safety aspects. We do not know the safety factors involved, and we do not know how to make these nuclear power stations safe. We may solve that problem, but the real danger that I see is that if we rely on nuclear power to bridge the gap which I have calculated will exist we shall be pressed into taking risks with safety, and that we cannot do.
We then come to consider the use of coal. Mr. Derek Ezra has estimated that there are about 2,000 billion tons oil equivalent reserves under the earth or on the surface, compared with a production of 1.8 billion tons oil equivalent in 1972, but that is most unlikely to bridge the gap, and as extensive mining on such a scale would cause immense environmental damage it is unlikely that it would be widely supported by local communities.
The equation does not work out. It is impossible to square the circle. What, therefore, is the future for economic growth? We are facing a threat to world prosperity. The hon. Member for Chesterfield spoke about the need for a fuel policy but what we need far more is an energy policy. An energy policy is not a fuel policy. Successive Governments have produced fuel policies, which means doing a graph of the predicted demand for fuel and hoping that supplies will meet it if there are X miners, and so on.
An energy policy would say that those two things never meet and that therefore we have not only to increase energy supplies but also substantially to reduce the use of energy. We therefore need an energy commission to advise the Government on the energy implications of their polcies—Concorde, Maplin, the Channel Tunnel, and so on. We need immediate 82 measures to promote the more economic use of energy supplies, whether in transport, power generation or house construction. Perhaps the Minister will say something about the Government's plan to bring in immediate and emergency regulations for building insulation. There must be a long-term policy to make Britain self-sufficient in fuel and to ensure that by 1985 consumption is no more than we can sustain from our own and immediately attainable resources.
I realise that the Government are right to bring forward the Bill. I do not welcome it, but it is necessary. Nevertheless, what I want to hear from the Government, as a result of this emergency measure, is that they are working towards a long-term energy policy.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
I shall not enter into the realms of fantasy indulged in by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) in an Oxford Union-type lecture. I shall try to bring the debate down to earth. There is a crisis now, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he gets "Jones the Vote" in here pretty quick to solve our problems. That may get us out of all our difficulties.
I propose to read a short letter that was printed in today's Daily Mirror. It says :We poorly paid families and old-age pensioners have really come into our own this week. Petrol and oil shortages do not matter to us. We do not own cars, and the Government's pleas to save fuel only reflects our day-to-day living. We already turn off all unnecessary lights and fires and have heating on at a minimum. It is the first time for years that something has happened that has not hit us first.I read that letter because over the past fortnight we have had a continuous diatribe from the Prime Minister downwards, until as late as last Friday when we had "Lord Dimwitted", I think he is called, from another place telling a meeting of Conservatives in Chesterfield—75 of them incidentally—that there was a fuel shortage. I did not think there were 75 Conservatives in Chesterfield. I believe they fetched them from all the three constituencies, Bolsover, Chesterfield and North-East Derbyshire. So they got a good gathering. The point he made was that the miners are not loyal, the miners are anarchists.
83 He went on to tell these people, at a very good lunch, what traitors to the country the miners were. The Lord Chancellor bobbed in and out of this place like a robin bobbing in and out of his nest. He broke the phase 3 barrier and got the Lord Chancellor's job at £18,000 a year. The Lord Chancellor—incidentally, when he was in this House he was the only man who lived up to his name ; I think it was Hogg—said that what was needed was a return to patriotism, loyalty, public spirit and civic virtue.
I will deal specifically with the miners. These are the virtues that the miners have always possessed. During the last war the miners worked under very difficult conditions. They worked seven days a week to produce the coal which kept this country going. A minimum amount of oil was being received by industry, and there was none at all for private use.
Immediately after the war they accepted, in the interests of the nation, a voluntary sacrifice of their five-day week. They were given a five-day week by agreement but sacrificed their weekends and went back to a six-day and seven-day week. To help us recover from the after-effects of the Korean War they made further sacrifices. They sacrificed one week's holiday to help the nation out of its troubles. They were told that they should not be making excessive wage demands because the nation was recovering from the worst war in history. Government Departments and everyone else, particularly employers, appealed to the miners to pull their socks up and get the coal. We did that.
I was very proud to be the leader of the miners' group in 1967–68. Only eight years earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) and I entered this House we made our maiden speeches on the same subject, fuel. We used the same argument then as we are using now. We warned the Government about their dependence on oil and their policy of running down the mining industry. We said that their fantasy of everlasting cheap oil would inevitably, and in the not-too-distant future, come to an end. That prophecy was repeated by the whole of the miners' group and its supporters in later years.
84 Unfortunately, our appeals fell on deaf ears. Because of that this country is paying the price today. Our Governments thought that we had an everlasting source of cheap fuel. I can well remember during an all-night sitting—on 2nd December 1967, I believe—at about half-past-six in the morning one of my hon. Friends in the mining group warned our own Ministers not to place too much dependence on oil. He said that we must not sacrifice the mining industry, that we must not allow our able-bodied men at 55 years of age to go out of the industry. The Minister's reply was that the ever-growing demand for refined spirits left a residue of fuel and the Government—unfortunately the Conservative Government followed suit—had to give a guaranteed market to the residue from the de-fined product. As a consequence, the mining industry suffered a rundown.
Weekend speeches have been made talking about 600 men a week leaving the pits. I can remember not long ago when 30,000 men a year were being driven from the pits because of Government policy, because of Civil Service advice, the same advice Ministers are following today. They were not prepared to listen to the practical men on the back benches. In 1957 the oil wells began to spurt and we made accusations of oil dumping. Nothing in the world was so sure. Fuel oil residue resulting from the refining in Holland and other Continental countries was being dumped here. This was done at the miners' expense. The miner was expected to pay for it.
Once more this Government, who claim hypocritically to be the friends of the miners, say that a very generous offer has been made to them. I have no time to go into that, but my experience in the trade union movement and in life has forced me always to take account, first and foremost, of relative values. We have not heard a word from the Prime Minister or his henchmen as yet about the relative value of the miners in this crisis. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) rightly talks about there being an oil price to be paid in 1985. I suggest that there has to be a coal price paid a long time before 1985.
§ Mr. Pardoe
The hon. Gentleman implies that I have missed out any reference to coal. Does he realise that some of 85 us have made three speeches on energy in the past week and we do not like to repeat them?
§ Mr. Swain
The hon. Gentleman mentioned coal in his final remarks. He said "Now I will return to coal", if my memory serves me right. Prior to that he said that there must be an oil price. I say that there must be a coal price. Many claims have been made about the special case of the miners. Wilberforce produced a solution after 48 hours of consideration during a crisis equal to that of today. It was a crisis brought about by the miners showing their strength, not reserving it but bringing their second front forward, declaring their industrial strength. Had it not been for Wilberforce this country would have ground to a halt.
I welcome the Prime Minister's proposals for discussions with the miners' leaders on Wednesday, but I am convinced that those talks should not be held in Downing Street. I issue a challenge to the Prime Minister. Markham No. 2, the colliery where I worked and where the latest tragedy occurred, has a face called "99s". Anybody who is told to go on to "99s" says "Bingo". I should like to see the Prime Minister, the Minister for Industry, Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly sitting next Wednesday at the coalface on "99s" at Markham No. 2 with a "snap" tin and a bottle of water for refreshment, discussing whether there should be some elasticity in phase 3. They should be discussing that question, not round a plush table in the Cabinet Room, not over a glass of beer and sandwiches, but over a bottle of water—a "Dudley" as we call it—and a "snap" tin in the conditions of the men who work underground.
I am convinced that if that were the locus of the talks the Prime Minister would not be pulling first on that rope and then on the other and saying "A little bit to starboard" or "A little bit to port". He would be praying to God to get him from that hole. Had not the Table Office ruled my question out of order on the ground that it was frivolous, I would have asked the Prime Minister to pay an official visit to "99s" at Markham No. 2.
Why should the Prime Minister and his Minister go round the country inciting captive audiences? I was at the Miners' Council meeting at Chesterfield this morning. The speeches of the Prime Minister 86 and other Ministers and the article that appeared in yesterday's Sunday Express are doing more than anything else to incite the miners. Everything that they are saying is totally and absolutely untrue. They have set out on an exercise to turn public opinion against the miners. They intend to create a situation that did not exist last time, a feeling of enmity between the general public and the miners.
I wish my party was voting against the Bill. When a crisis of this nature has been brought about by the Government, the rôle of the Opposition should be to oppose the measures the Government introduce. I am certain that the measures which have been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and others in the Shadow Cabinet have a much better prospect of getting through to the miners.
I turn finally to the dangers we face from a propaganda point of view. Propaganda will create a labour crisis in the mining industry and in other industries in turn. That crisis will be beyond control. Public threats are coming from the Government, emblazoned in such headlines as "Mr. Heath Warns the Miners". If that is not a threat I do not know what is. I can tell the Prime Minister and his henchmen that we in the mining industry will challenge him on any threat and will accept any gauntlet that he is prepared to throw down. We hope to God that he does not have the occasion to throw it down, but will see sense and allow some elasticity within phase 3 on Wednesday. I doubt it.
I am convinced that the Prime Minister's parents must have been frightened by Stanley Baldwin, because the Prime Minister has adopted the mantle of Stanley Baldwin. Stanley Baldwin set up the Samuel Committee which led to the 1926 strike. I believe that the Prime Minister, when he set up the Wilberforce Tribunal, hoped that it would produce a report as antagonistic to the miners as the Samuel Report was. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister's ego—that is all it was—Lord Wilberforce saw fit to apply common sense to his award.
I hope that the Government, in implementing their petrol rationing or whatever is coming—believe me, we have some hardships to come yet—will do something they have never done before 87 and admit that they were wrong. It was said in the time of the Labour Government that there has never been a fuel policy defined or estimates on fuel policy given by any Government that has been anywhere near accurate. This is the first time in my knowledge of the mining industry, which goes back to 1925, and in my knowledge of the House, which goes back 14 years, that we have had a crisis thrust upon us where the mine-workers' refusal to work overtime has been used as an excuse because there is an alleged world oil shortage. This is what defeats me. This is what is frustrating the miners.
The miners are being made scapegoats. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East asked what law the miners are breaking. Any industry such as the mining industry which works a five-day week normally and which has to depend on at least 5 per cent. of its labour force working at weekends to maintain the machinery and to look after the safety of the enterprise must inevitably be treated as a special case, plus a vital fact which neither the Prime Minister nor his Ministers, nor Government backbenchers, have taken into consideration.
The mining industry is the only manual industry in Britain—in the world actually—where all underground officials from the lowest to the highest have to be qualified in accordance with Home Office standards to hold a job of any sort underground. This is unique in industrial terms. From a shotfirer, which is the lowest—I do not mean that in a degrading sense ; I am talking about the base of officialdom—to the colliery manager they have to be certified by the Ministry as being competent and being trained in accordance with regulations. There are more regulations in the mining industry than in any other industry.
That fact alone should convince those on the Government benches that if Wilberforce was right in saying that the miners were a special case the Prime Minister would be equally right in allowing some elasticity within stage 3 so that the miners can maintain their relative position in the special case category. That is all we are asking for. The miners do not want to aggravate the position any more than anyone else does. But we shall 88 not back down from the grips if we have to come to grips.
As I do not like to use the word "warn", because I should only be repeating the mistake that hon. Members opposite are making, I advise the Prime Minister to think seriously. If he wants to fill the vacuum that has been created in the energy position by the rundown in the mining industry over the past 20 years, he must pay the price to the miners—not the price that they demand, but the price that the country ought to be prepared to pay on a relative value basis.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) will forgive me if I do not take up his argument, except to say that I have always respected his views and the strength with which he argues them. The House will agree that he has made a devastating case for damning the previous Government's policy towards the mining industry, under which not only was the industry run down but the relative pay scales of those employed in it sank lower and lower down the ladder. What he failed to point out to the House was that it is this Government's policy, which has already been pursued in practice, not just to stabilise the mining industry, but to restore it and, over a period of years, to restore the incomes of those employed in the industry in relation to other incomes.
I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) again in his place on the Front Bench, even though I am surprised that he has been able to spare the time from his party political internal squabble meeting to attend this debate, because he carries the responsibility for irresponsible provocation in a most divisive way in a dispute which comes at a time of grave national emergency. I find it extraordinary that a leader of the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen should take such a view, and support a direct challenge to democracy and to a democratically elected Parliament, by supporting action which is not only against the interests and future of the industry itself but against the national interest at a time of grave emergency.
§ Mr. Rost
Nobody has suggested that at this point the miners are breaking the law. The point that has been made is that, against the majority support of their members, the leaders of the miners' union are openly proposing to challenge the law enacted by the democratically elected Parliament of this country. Whether or not they break the law will depend upon whether they proceed with that challenge. Naturally, we all hope that they will not.
In speaking this afternoon, I wish to concentrate on the shorter-term problems of the energy crisis. I found it disappointing that this afternoon the Government did not announce more stringent measures to conserve our energy.
§ Mr. Rost
That is true, and I am sure that we gave the viewers their moneys-worth. But that does not mean that I have not taken the precaution of briefing myself about what was said earlier in this debate.
But it is disappointing to me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not announced immediate rationing. For me there is one central issue which ought to be debated by this House in relation to this Bill, and that is the question of priority. It now seems absolutely vital to allocate our priorities in the right way, and that means ensuring that industry and the essential services are not deprived of any of their energy. That cannot happen unless we immediately conserve the energy that is used for less essential purposes.
On Friday my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry answered a Question of mine about the amount of oil still in reserve in this country. As was widely reported in the national Press on Saturday morning, the answer was that we now have an estimated supply of oil in reserve in this country for only 64 days. I find it rather surprising that the figure had declined 90 from the 70 days' reserve which we were told we had at the beginning of last week.
My hon. Friend answered a second Question of mine on Friday, about whether oil supplies on their way to this country were being diverted by international oil companies to other markets. I had a somewhat disappointing reply to that Question, as the national Press pointed out. The reply that the Government are not aware that any oil is being diverted elsewhere is somewhat strange, since the Press has been fairly full of evidence during the last two or three days that oil is being diverted elsewhere. I am not criticising the international oil companies, because we know that they have commitments. But it would appear to be adopting a somewhat complacent attitude to say that the Government are not aware of any oil being diverted, during a week when the oil reserves went down from 70 days to 64 days and when it is fairly apparent that oil is being diverted. Surely the time has now come to grasp this crisis situation more realistically, and move out of the phoney emergency into the real emergency.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister how much oil he anticipates will come into this country during December, because if the oil reserves have already dropped quite drastically before the effects of the Middle East cutback have been felt—we know that it takes about 30 days for the tankers to reach this country—how much can we expect to come into this country during December when the effects of the cut-back will have been felt? Are we quite satisfied that, by not taking more stringent emergency measures to conserve supplies, we shall not be endangering the economy and prosperity of this country over the coming months?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)
I wonder whether I may ask my hon. Friend to read the report of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because he went into some detail about the amount of oil which was delivered during November. I think it is wrong, when a Member has not been able to hear one of the opening speeches, to prolong a debate in this way after an answer has been given.
§ Mr. Bishop
I am sure the House will have noted with keen approval that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) is anxious that we should all keep the law. He accepted my right hon. Friend's statement that the miners are not breaking the law. As he is so keen on observing the law, may I ask him whether he is aware, as a supporter of a Government who have taken us into the Common Market, that it is a Common Market rule that we share products with each other? Therefore, may I ask whether he agrees that we should supply oil to Holland?
§ Mr. Rost
The hon. Gentleman knows my views on that. Of course, I believe we have a responsibility, as a partner in the Community, not to allow one Community member to be isolated, victimised or blackmailed. The point I am making is not that we should not be sharing or that the oil companies should be blamed for shipping oil elsewhere. The point is that just because international oil companies have responsibilities apart from this country, and because we in Great Britain have responsibilities within Europe, it is all the more essential that we now conserve more energy by cutting down on less essential consumption so that we can be absolutely certain that even if the situation deteriorates further our industry will not be severely cut back.
I want to give an example of one industry where even a 10 per cent. cutback in oil consumption would have a far more drastic effect on the whole economy than is realised. That is the chemical industry. It is not just a question of providing maintained supplies for the petro-chemical industry. It is just as important that the basic chemical process industry is maintained with its full supplies.
We know that the basic chemical industry materials are already in very short supply, and any cut-back in oil would have an immediate effect on a wide range of chemical products, quite apart from the problems that would result because of the continuous flow processes in the chemical industry. The serious effect that any cut-back in oil supplies would have 92 on this one industry would be widespread throughout the whole economy. The stocks of basic chemicals are essential components of our electric power generation, our steel industry, sewerage, water supplies and a whole range of other industries.
There is no doubt that not just in the chemical industry but in all other industries we must make absolutely certain that there is no cut-back in oil which would seriously prejudice the economy, employment, balance of payments and future growth in this country. It is for this reason that we must secure the full quota of oil for our industry, and not just for feedstocks. It is for this reason that the Government should now be taking more stringent measures under the emergency powers than they have taken so far.
I want to suggest one or two steps which ought immediately to be taken so that this proper sense of urgency can be preserved to protect our economy. First, we should have rationing here and now. I know that it is difficult and unpopular, but even if a majority of the population followed a voluntary appeal for restraint—and I certainly did not see very much sign of it in my travels this last weekend—I do not believe that a 10 per cent. cut-back in the private consumption of petrol is enough.
It is, moreover, quite unfair to garages to expect them to apply a system of rationing. I already have evidence of one or two garages in the area of Derbyshire which have had to close permanently because their independent suppliers have run out of fuel. This is applying rationing in an indiscriminate way, with some people getting it and others not.
§ Mr. Emery
I shall be glad if my hon. Friend will let me have information of any oil distributive retailer who is, as he put it, closing permanently because of the shortage of supplies. The reason why the Government took action last week with their orders was to ensure that supplies should get to them. If my hon. Friend has this information, perhaps he will be kind enough to let my Department have it. We will then see that the situation is thoroughly looked into.
§ Mr. Rost
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I will certainly do that. 93 This still does not alter the fact that we should have rationing now in order to preserve our oil for the more essential purposes of industry, whether or not the supplies from the Middle East are maintained.
Secondly, I cannot understand why we have not imposed a compulsory 50 mph speed limit. It is much more satisfying, of course, if one can get people to respond to a voluntary appeal, but there is a much more urgent emergency than justifies a simple voluntary appeal. I should have liked to see a compulsory 50 mph speed limit, and this would have given the police an opportunity to respond to it with one or two convictions.
At the same time, it would make sense to suspend the commercial vehicle driving hours limitation, at least temporarily, so that the slightly slower speed at which commercial vehicles are obliged to travel would not prohibit them from meeting their driving schedule commitments. That would be a sensible measure.
Thirdly, I cannot understand why, under the emergency powers, the Government have not yet switched off a substantial proportion of the street lighting, both urban lighting and motorway lighting. I know that this would save only 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the electricity supplied, but it is still quite substantial when one considers that this is not a priority demand. We can manage without this lighting. It seems unnecessarily wasteful for vast acreages of urban landscape and roads to be illuminated all night long when some consumers are going without fuel and there could be serious shortages to industry in the coming weeks.
§ Mr. Palmer
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that many of these street lighting systems are time-switch controlled and that it is an extremely laborious business to make changes in a short time.
§ Mr. Rost
I am not attempting to minimise the problems. I am merely stating what I believe ought to be a sense of priority in a state of emergency. If it is a question of deciding whether to switch off the lights, even though that may be a laborious business, or whether we ought to allow industry to run down, with all the adverse effects which would 94 follow, I would say "Let us switch the lights off".
There is equally a case to be made for the Central Electricity Generating Board to look very closely at its power stations and to phase out the less efficient power stations which are converting a lower proportion of their fuel into electricity than the more efficient ones. Cutting down the less essential consumption of electricity in the ways I have suggested would make it possible to close down or phase out some of the less efficient power stations.
There should also be consideration of a fairly rapid increase in railway and other public transport services to compensate for the decline in private transport. I appreciate that there are problems, particularly the staffing problem, as there is with all emergency measures. But in a state of emergency British Rail and the public transport authorities should make it a matter of priority to ensure that there are extra services to compensate for the decline in motoring that we all feel is necessary.
With a crash programme a great deal could be done to conserve energy from now on. For example, an immediate incentive could be given for the thermal insulation of existing as well as new buildings. The thermal insulation of our buildings is the worst in Western Europe. It is a disgrace. We waste far too much of our energy which we shall find increasingly costly. There is a strong argument for bigger inducements to conserve that energy through better thermal insulation.
A great deal could also be done immediately through the employment of energy consultants to conserve oil and coal burnt in industry. There are many examples of their having brought about substantial savings of energy in industry. There are many sections of industry in which such consultants have not been employed but could be employed.
We also need to find more efficient ways of generating energy, particularly electricity, such as on-site generating of electricity in industry and the use of waste heat for central heating and other purposes.
Even if the Middle East oil supply situation becomes no worse, and even if the coal dispute is settled, we still need 95 to get our priorities right. The problems may solve themselves over the short term, in which case we can get on with the longer-term solutions and try to make ourselves self-sufficient. But we are not entitled to take that chance. Nothing could be lost by taking more stringent precautionary measures now to conserve energy to ensure that industry is not cut back, even if the oil does not flow again.
The priority must be to keep the oil, coal and other energy supplies going to industry and the essential services, because otherwise there will be a serious recession very quickly, with all its dire consequences. We should now take more stringent measures, under the emergency powers, to cut back on the less essential consumption of energy to ensure that there are adequate supplies for the more essential needs of the economy.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
To begin by returning to the factual question I put to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when I intervened in his speech. The explanatory and financial memorandum tells us that under Clause 5:officers of a body corporate are to be guilty of an offence where the body corporate has committed an offence with their consent or due to their negligence".We know from other legislation that the identification of fault in such a context, or the context of pollution, is extremely difficult in practice. I look forward to the explanation promised by the Secretary of State. Will the most senior man in the business or organisation concerned who can be clearly proved to have knowledge of the offence be punished?
Next, that Wednesday morning meeting at Downing Street, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) have referred, is a crucial meeting.
In the Co-operative Hall at Dunfermline on Saturday I was, as I have been many times before, a platform guest of the National Union of Mineworkers, some of whose members present were from the Kinneil Colliery in Bo'ness in West Lothian. Without bombast, and as courteously as I can, I ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister, before he 96 meets the NUM at Downing Street, the six following points.
First, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) spoke of extremist leaders without the support of their members. I wish to convey the message that the miners' leaders are not a small group of wrecking, intransigent militants. They represent accurately the feeling in at any rate the Scottish coalfield, no less than the Yorkshire or Derbyshire coalfields. The idea that they are out of touch with their membership is a delusion.
Secondly, as a Member attuned to differences between oratorical propaganda and seriousness of intent, I ask the Prime Minister not to delude himself into supposing that in a ballot the miners would repudiate their own leaders. In their present mood they will do nothing of the kind. If the meeting in Fife to which I have referred is anything to go by, the right hon. Gentleman would be making a terrible mistake if he thought that they were not speaking for the membership of the union.
§ Mr. Palmer
My hon. Friend may be interested in the parallel example of the power engineers. They took a national ballot, conducted by the Electoral Reform Society, and it was nine to one in favour of industrial action, their first industrial action for 60 years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That confirms my suspicion that John Lyons, like the NUM leaders, was very much in touch with his membership.
Thirdly, I refer to the gut feeling in the mining community not so much that they wish to take advantage of the rest of us in the present crisis but that they are now in a position to put right old wrongs and to establish their legitimate position in the financial pecking order of society. Two examples struck particular chords at that meeting. One was when Bill MacLean, Secretary of the Scottish miners, referred to an advertisement by the firm in Slough that makes Mars Bars. He quoted the advertisement at length. It was to the effect that those who will be employed, from 18 onwards, on wrapping Mars Bars would be given £37 to £43 a week, and that there would be special concessions from the firm in the way of supplying foodstuffs to any employees who were taken on. Rather bitterly, he said that 97 that would be the equivalent of concessionary coal, and that it was more than they were asking for for taking the risks of going down a coal mine. All that I would bring to the attention of the Minister is the chord which that particular remark struck among the miners who were present. When Lawrence Daly asked :Why should a man with a dictaphone working in an office with a secretary get by tradition far more than a man who risks his life going down a coal mine?",the same chord was struck. This is the kind of feeling that exists.
Fourthly—I say this in as unpompous a tone as I can—I hope that the Prime Minister knows with whom he is dealing when he talks to Lawrence Daly. Apart from the fact that, on his day, Mr. Daly is one of the five most gifted platform orators in Britain, I should like to say of my friend of 20 years, and a former constituent, that he has a remarkable record of seriousness of political purpose. I should like to tell the Prime Minister, through the Under-Secretary, what I think makes Lawrence Daly tick. He feels the same honourable passionate dedication to improve the basic lot of the mining community as the Prime Minister feels towards Europe. It is his idea of his life's work. Until now, the position of coal in a modern economy has not given him the power to do what he sees really in terms of putting right the wrongs of many years. Now that the mining community, perhaps, has the State by the jugular, Lawrence Daly, I emphasise, will not be out to make us pay for it in any malicious way but will be simply determined to make the rest of us understand the price of coal is the price of pneumoconiosis, of injured limbs and, too often, of life itself, and that the miners should be paid accordingly.
I should like the Minister to convey to those at Downing Street that, in my view, from the Fife meeting and many other discussions there is one face-saving avenue which the Prime Minister would do well to explore. For many years the miners have felt that they should be paid like many of the rest of us, from the time when we clock in for work. Now would seem a reasonable moment to give the miners an uprating based on what others take for granted. Let them be paid from the moment they check in to the moment they leave the pit. That, at any rate, from 98 the Government's point of view, would preserve the face of phase 3. At least it would be a face-saver and a practical possibility.
For five years before becoming a Member of Parliament I was a teacher at a secondary school in West Lothian, in which about half of the children came from mining families. I am on close personal terms with many of my former pupils who are young miners. They tell me that unless there is a real uprating in pay they will be quitting the pits. That is a story that can be repeated all over the country. Any Government who think that they will retain a coal industry at all in this country must do something about the position.
I should like to change the subject, briefly, and ask about the uses of coal in the future. I should like to know the Government's opinion of the view of David Broadbent, speaking on behalf of the National Coal Board, that coal in future will be transformed from the industry which we have known in the past and will increasingly be used as a hydrocarbon source providing synthetic oil, synthetic gas and foodstuffs. The ultimate of such ideas is the "coalplex" complex, which is virtually a refinery fed by coal. Its output can be varied to suit market conditions. This country made a wrong turn when it accepted the Wilson Committee on the use of coal. But this is an important and increasingly urgent problem.
There is no new technology on the horizon which is likely to come into use within 10 years. Therefore, we have to look carefully at the nuclear situation. I refer to my second interruption of the Secretary of State, the question of returning to the Magnox reactors, to ask whether in discussions on Magnox we have not been in danger of making the best the enemy of the good. At least we know that Magnox works, and at least we know that it will take a significantly shorter time to construct a network of replicated Magnox stations than any other foreseeable option. Calder Hall has a 94 per cent. efficiency rate, over 16 years. Magnox fuel, rather than rising in price last year, fell by 19 per cent. It may be a step backwards in technology, but at least it is safe and it is working.
This is in contrast to what we read about the progress of the AGR. Here I 99 simply make reference to the question whether engineers are not playing a game of poker. Before one starts in poker, one should be very clear that one has an overall hand and money's worth in the pocket. Unless it becomes clear from the most recent two AGR stations and the building of them that there is likely to be success, in the short term we ought to consider Magnox unless—and here is another option, which I put in question form—what discussions are taking place with the Canadians on the "Candu" system? Is it possible to have some kind of programme, again with a reactor which is proved and which we know is working?
Many of us are worried about rumours of a massive purchase of an American light water reactor. For the British, are we not right in supposing that the learning time—this is a very crucial factor—of the light water reactor already in use in the United States would hardly be less for us than the learning time on the AGR? My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) referred to the dangers of pollution. There is no point in replacing an energy crisis with a radio-active crisis. But, perhaps we deserve a Government comment on the report of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which says that the lack of satisfactory plans for the long-term storage or disposal of nuclear waste presents the very real possibility that catastrophic accidents could occur. Is that exaggerated? Are there risks of core-cooling, or are the risks exaggerated?
We also need a Government view on the place of the steam generating heavy water reactor. Those of us who have visited Winfrith are a little baffled why more progress and, indeed, a favourable decision about an experimental reactor has not already been made, although some of us were dismayed this morning to read that the prototype fast breeder reactor at Dounreay has again suffered a setback. Perhaps that is a legitimate subject for comment, but, again, I would hope that the Government have asked Dr. Pearce, the director of Culham, to tell them what he sees as the practical future of fusion, bearing in mind that lithium and varium can be had in quantities and fairly cheaply. Admittedly, this is very theoretical, but the questions must be asked now.
100 There are some urgent questions also about the position of employees of the Authority. In relation to Risley, when will discussions with staff on the transfer of employment to the new company take place? On what time scale is the final detail of the new structure to be announced? Where will staff be based, and for how long can they be expected to remain in their present localities? What redundancies or rationalisation are to be expected, in view of GEC's past record of asset stripping?
Those questions have been asked directly by people at Risley, and there has been some correspondence with the Department, of which the Minister now on the Front Bench may not be aware. We shall not be helping the energy crisis if we do not look after the morale of those who work at Risley and the other atomic energy establishments.
I return now to another of my comments during the Secretary of State's speech. Many of us now have great qualms, given what we now know, about the use of natural gas for burning. Hindsight is all very well, but when natural gas was first discovered some of us were, perhaps, too timid in voicing our fears. Now, however, when we know a lot more, I repeat the question : is it sensible for this country to use natural gas for burning, when natural gas is one of the purest forms of raw material there is?
Much more work could be done on research into batteries. I understand that in 1850 a battery could give 5 horsepower-hours. By 1900 that had crept up to 8 horsepower-hours. By 1973 we have achieved 13 horsepower-hours. I am told that it should not be too difficult, with the present economic incentive, to undertake research which would create a 30 horsepower-hour battery. Will the Government allocate special funds for the development of the sodium-sulphur battery for transport purposes?
Only three years ago the National Coal Board did some work which predicted the energy gap or energy shortage over the next decade or so. This work was regarded with utter disbelief in the United States. The idea that there would be an energy crisis was laughed at. The situation has been aggravated by the political issues in the Middle East, but these issues are only 101 additional factors which alter the time scale of events and not the basic situation.
I refer here to the declining oil discovery rate in the 1960s. The geologists say that it is unlikely that any great new oil deposits will be found on land, at least outside Siberia, and they have a shrewd idea where to look. To make an oil field takes 100 million years, but to consume it takes 100 years.
This brings me to the question of shale. The area which I represent, together with Midlothian, lies at the centre of the old shale mining industry of this country, an industry with a remarkable record. James "Paraffin" Young of Bathgate started the oil revolution, and many of my constituents left for Texas and Louisiana when the oil industry began in earnest. It is appropriate, therefore, that I should talk about shale. Do the Government propose—not in West Lothian, because we suffer from the problems of extractive industry—to search for shale, and will they say what the forecast is?
It is essential that something be done early about deciding on a centre of drilling technology in this country, either in Scotland or elsewhere. The Minister will be aware of various Questions about this which have been put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. We should welcome an early decision.
I hope that the Government will see fit to get in contact with the chemists and look at the chemistry programmes in our universities. We have plenty of carbon and plenty of hydrogen. Is it beyond the wit of scientists to synthesise and to produce a pumpable safe and stable fuel? If the West goes on at present rates, every two hours a 250,000-ton tanker will dock in the United States with oil, and every 10 hours a 100,000-ton tanker will dock with natural gas.
I repeat the question already asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. In present circumstances, is it rational to proceed with oil-burning power stations, for instance at Littlebrook and Killingholme? Having had an Adjournment debate about how unwise it was to go ahead in the North of Scotland with an oil-burning power station near Peter-head and not to go ahead with the proposed nuclear station at Stake Ness, I feel entitled to ask that question, especially as it affects my own constituency. The 102 South of Scotland Electricity Board's idea of having an oil-burning power station at Carriden on the West Lothian coast is crazy in the present state of knowledge. The cross-over period and the costs between oil and coal will be brought forward from 1978 to the near future. I understand that I might not get an answer tonight, but I should like to know whether there is to be any reconsideration of the SSEB's forward plans.
I echo what has been said about the building regulations, and I wonder whether consideration could be given to whether windows ought to be allowed on the north side of houses in future construction? Also, could more be done for the insulation not only of factory roofs, but of factory walls? I am told that the regulations are at present limited to the roofing of factories rather than walls.
What can be done to produce fuel by recycling processes such as pyrolysis? There was reference to this in the Adjournment debate on the recycling industry last Thursday. I should like to know whether the Government have any plans to go ahead.
At the risk of ribald comment, I turn now to the subject of windmills. None other than Sir William Hawthorne, Master of Churchill College and Professor of Engineering at Cambridge, pointed out to me at an NRDC meeting the other night that the wind was such that in places like West Lothian work on the construction of, for instance, the Forth Road Bridge had to be stopped on eight days a month. I am not suggesting that the Government should spend a fortune on a massive windmill programme, turning West Lothian into a place with a sort of Dutch landscape at the time of Pieter Breughel the Elder, but what I do suggest is that in future every source of energy, however modest, will count. There could be several places—the Hebrides, for example—where it might not be entirely stupid to think in terms of windmill construction. It might be established that they could be harnessed more efficiently than they were 40 years ago to make electricity.
Such suggestions lend themselves to ribaldry, but if the Government are serious about tapping every source, every source should be made to count.
103 I echo what others have said about subsidising the railways. To take one example, I hope that the line between Airdrie and Bathgate and the new town of Livingston and Edinburgh, where there have been massive population changes, will be opened again. This would be a petrol-saving device. Applied both there and elsewhere, where there have been shifts of population—without doubt, there are all sorts of other areas where populations have shifted since closure decisions were taken—it could be a valuable new step.
Are the Government at all sympathetic to the idea of an energy research council, in the same way as we have an Agricultural Research Council and a Science Research Council? I am sceptical about the spawning of more bodies and more bureaucracy, but I think that there may be a case in present circumstances for an energy research council. The idea has been put forward by a number of different authorities, and I should like to know what the Government think about it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
The speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was much more technical than mine will be. At the beginning of it he mentioned the seriousness of the coal dispute and its effects on industry and employment. I shall say a few words about that matter later in my speech.
I welcome the Secretary of State's repeated appeal for restraint in the use of oil and petrol. I assume that one reason why the Government have not yet introduced a rationing scheme is that they are determined to make such a scheme, should its introduction be necessary, much more sophisticated than previous schemes. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) rightly stressed the problems of the rural areas and the fact that rural train and bus services had steeply declined. Many of us on the Government side of the House echo his appeal for special attention to be paid to the situation of people in such areas.
I agree that there should be a compulsory 50 mph limit. Such a limit is easy to operate on many stretches of motorway because we have, at great 104 expense to the country, a hazard warning light system in times of fog and ice when the police feel that a certain speed should be observed. Continuing to spend money as we do to keep this apparatus in operation, it seems sensible to use it to flash a 50 mph limit.
I should have thought that the Post Office and the rural bus services could co-operate to see whether additional improvements could be made should we have to have petrol rationing, but I hope that the Government will not forget that if we must have extra bus and train services this is bound to have an effect on overtime payments, unsocial hours working, and so on, under phase 3. I hope that the Bill's built-in flexibility will be of use in this respect.
But I cannot too strongly stress to the Minister that in my constituency there are many people who work shifts and we cannot do without their work if we are to keep the economy expanding at the present date. Therefore, any scheme which does not make a generous allocation of supplementary coupons to those who must have such coupons will not be satisfactory. I hope that should we have to have a rationing scheme great attention will be paid not only to people in the rural areas but to those who have to work shifts.
I should like to say a few words about the Electricity (Heating) (Restriction) Order No. 1900. I do not think that the Government are doing enough to publicise the existing laws on electricity heating restrictions. I should like to ask the Minister two questions. He may not be able to answer them when he replies to the debate, but I hope that he will give publicity to them. First, is it legal to heat village halls if they are used from time to time for play group purposes? Secondly, is it legal to heat village halls by electricity if they are used by pensioners for a weekly or twice weekly group meeting or coffee morning or any other social activity which county welfare services or other voluntary groups may organise for pensioners? I should like the Government to make a clear statement on the rules for heating village halls.
I turn now to the question of the coal dispute and the forthcoming meeting between the Government and the National Union of Mineworkers. I agree that we 105 should have an energy commission, one of whose first tasks should be to consider the effect on investment and employment of the current oil-coal crisis. I should have thought that such a commission could make a report on the situation by the spring. It would have to consider not only the question of the pay of coalminers but the wages of gas-workers and electricity supply workers, who also have wage claims in the pipeline. If there were an overtime ban in the gas industry or the disruption or slow-down of gas supplies there would be an equally serious effect on industries dependent on the supply of gas as there would be with a disruption of coal sup-lies. Such a commission would also consider the power engineers' dispute.
It is clear that the oil crisis has badly jolted phase 3. One of the first tasks of an energy commission would be to look into the totality of energy supplies and the cost of energy, which inevitably includes the pay of coal miners, gas-workers and electricity supply workers. We could not expect the commission to produce a report in a month, but it could, I believe, produce a report in four or five months. I hope that in the meantime, given the setting up of the commission, the National Union of Mine-workers will accept the offer made under phase 3, with the proviso that by the spring the energy commission will have considered not only the coal industry, vis-à-vis what the miners are paid, but the situation in the electricity and gas industries, which are equally vital. That is the way to avoid a winter of disruption and dispute.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I was interested in the short and concise speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), which will have a certain appeal for the Prime Minister and the Government.
My hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) and Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said that time and again the miners' group in the House warned the Government about the dangers that were bound to arise in relation to the supply of oil from the Middle East. We pointed out that it was unwise and imprudent of the Government and the country to depend to such a tremendous 106 extent on energy supplies from that area. No notice was taken of us even by the Labour Government, let alone the present Government. Now the Bill is probably essential to ensure that we can keep the economy running at as high a level as possible.
The Government made certain restrictions. I am pleased that they have changed their mind about one or two of them. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South referred to village halls. I understand that in connection with church services the Government have changed their mind and that people are now allowed to congregate in church for normal morning services and use six hours' electricity. I hope that the Government will again consider this matter, because there is not only one service a week; there may be two or three.
§ Mr. Wainwright
I thank the hon. gentleman. We are grateful for the six hours' provision, but in winter it takes six hours sufficiently to warm a building for the congregation. If another six hours could be granted, we should be happy.
I cannot understand why people are surprised about the question of the supply of oil from the Middle East. The power has been in the hands of the Middle Eastern countries for years. The standard of living of people in those countries has probably been kept at a low level because the Western world has paid low prices for oil. Unfortunately, it has taken an uprising in the Middle East to make the oil-producing countries appreciate the strength which they possess and how they can exert pressure on the Western world. I do not agree that they should blackmail us to the extent that they are doing, but we should take account of their position, the power which they have and what they are trying to achieve.
I should like to see a settlement reached in the Middle Eastern countries and some understanding between the Western world and the oil-producing nations to ensure that the economy of 107 this country, as well as theirs, can advance. Great Britain has been determined to go into the EEC and to form a brotherhood of nations, but it will break faith with its continental neighbours if it tries to get more oil than the other European nations. If there is to be a confrontation it will not help us if the European countries are divided.
When we used to say that it was dangerous to our economy to depend on oil from the Arab States we were told that those States had to sell their oil—that they would not agree with each other and would never form a cartel. We were told that for that reason we could always use our influence and persuade them to sell us the oil at a cheaper price. That argument has gone with the wind. For the first time the oil-producing nations have formed a cartel. I hope that everyone realises that this means a reduction in the economic standards of the Western world. Unless Great Britain produce sufficient energy from its indigenous sources our economy will have to be maintained with a reduced energy supply. Within the next three or four years we shall have a supply of oil from the North Sea, but it will not be sufficient for our needs. I doubt whether we shall get sufficient oil from the North Sea within the next 10 years, so we shall still need oil from another source.
The coal industry has been allowed to run down, although the Government were warned about the danger of allowing this to happen. We were the leading nation in the production of nuclear power, yet now we are talking about buying nuclear plants from the United States. To do this would be to risk destroying our own nuclear industry. Why have the Government taken this attitude? We were leading the United States and Russia, yet we have allowed them to overtake us and are talking about purchasing from America nuclear plants which have not been tested to the same extent as our reactors, and whose safety is in question. The Government should reconsider this.
§ Mr. Wainwright
Yes, but if we allow that lead to fade away, what will there be to be proud of? We want to go on being proud because we have the ingenuity to ensure that we have the strongest nuclear energy industry in the world. We should not even have to consider buying from another nation.
On Wednesday there is to be an important meeting between the Prime Minister and the miners' leaders. We have heard about confrontations and statements made by both sides. What the miners' leaders have said has been taken up by many who dislike the miners. The Government have already taken up an attitude. They have said that stage 3 will not be defeated, stage 3 is the limit and there can be nothing beyond stage 3. That suggests to the miners' leaders that there is no hope for them of further negotiations unless they accept the limit set by stage 3. But an offer on those lines has already been made to the miners, so, according to the Government, there is no hope of fruitful discussions between the Prime Minister and the miners' leaders. Why, therefore, should the Government be upset if the miners say that they will not accept that offer?
The Prime Minister is probably making a great mistake in undertaking discussions with the miners' leaders if there is no hope of going beyond the present agreement. On the last occasion the Wilber-force award did not bring the miners up to the rate of pay they deserve. That award went towards what the miners should be paid, but everyone seems to think that it gave the miners more than anyone else. That is not so. Because people think that the Wilberforce award gave miners so much they think that they are not entitled to any further increase beyond the stage 3 offer.
When we talk about the possible effect on inflation of an increase in miners' wages we should ask why we want coal and why we want miners. It would be imprudent and foolish for the Government to say that the miners are not entitled to a rate of pay equal to if not better than the average in manufacturing industries. If they were to get that it would be something. We should be considering how to attract young people 109 to the mines. A lot of money is spent on advertising, but young people will not go to the mines. Yorkshire has lost 3,351 men this year. The number of miners is falling in Yorkshire, which is a productive area, and also in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Men are not going into the mines, and unless we make it more profitable for them to work there those who are there will not stay.
A young man working below ground is on a basic rate of £27.27. With the increase that has been offered he will get £29.86, from which a certain amount is stopped. He could, as a healthy young man earn that amount in practically any industry away from the pits. There are many jobs in which wages are low, and people are dissatisfied when they hear about miners' wages. But they never seem inclined to go into the pits.
The Government must make up their minds whether they want a viable coal mining industry. For a start, why do they not do something about coal-fired power stations? Why does not the Minister give us an answer on Drax 2? What is being done about Burton B? Why cannot some decision be made on this? Why cannot the Government give some inducement to men in the industry so that those workers know that their industry is secure? Why is not more done to encourage people to go into mining?
It is no good relying on Middle East oil and then complaining when the quantity of oil is suddenly reduced because the oil-producing nations say that they want a better share of things and take the view, "If you do not give us what we want you will not get any more oil". The Government must face the consequences of that situation. They must not blame the miners for reduced energy requirements. This has been caused by the oil-producing nations reducing energy supplies.
Unless the Government offer a far greater figure to the miners than has been offered so far—and I am sorry to say this—I cannot see any settlement of this confrontation. The confrontation must be settled for the benefit of the nation as a whole. It is in the Government's hands to take one step forward to make sure that this matter is settled.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I welcome the Bill but hope that its provisions will not be used. Unlike some of my hon. Friends who want to see rationing introduced immediately, I do not take this view. I believe that the exemptions that will be necessary, the fiddling which inevitably will result from any form of rationing—and we remember what happened in 1956 and even during the war—will mean that those living in rural areas such as my constituency will find it extremely difficult to move around. I hope that we shall not need to use this piece of legislation ; nevertheless, I am glad that the Government have armed themselves with the Bill.
I caution those of my hon. Friends who wish to see a statutory 50 mph speed limit. If that speed limit is applied to commercial vehicles, it could be more wasteful than to allow them to go up to 55 miles an hour, as is the situation in the United States. Once a large vehicle is under way, it often runs more economically at slightly higher speeds than if it has to slow down and then build up speed again. I hope that more action will be taken about waiting aircraft at London Airport and elsewhere where the burn of fuel is enormous and certainly nullifies any action the motorist may take. This applies to aircraft waiting to take off, to aircraft stacking and so on. These are certainly two areas in which action could be taken.
This legislation highlights the fact that as a nation we are energy-wasters. We have been encouraged to waste energy and also a great deal of manufactured production. This period of waste is drawing to an end. We shall never again go back to cheap energy. Even if the problem which we are now discussing is resolved, the days of cheap energy are finished.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, with his friends in the Central Electricity Generating Board and elsewhere, will examine the problem of thermal efficiency at power stations. It is a terrifying thought in this day and age that nearly 50 per cent. of fuel burned goes up the chimney without serving any useful purpose.
111 I should like to think that we were looking seriously at other sources of fuel. Indeed, the combustion of domestic waste for the heating of large blocks of flats is one significant way in which energy can be conserved and a new source found.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says, and I wonder whether he would like to say something about the pyrolysis process. I am sure that the Government will listen carefully to anything he says on this important matter.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and would point out that in Nottingham this system is already used to some extent, but I agree that it is an area in which more advances could be made. There are sources of fuel which I should like the Government to examine. For example, in other countries, such as France, tidal barrages have been used with great effect, and this matter has not been seriously examined in this country. I could go on cataloguing others sources, such as shale, tars and the rest.
The fact is that we have never previously in the past had to bother about energy. We assumed that we would always have plenty of energy, and that it would be cheap. As the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) said, we used to take the view that because the Arabs could not drink their oil we would get it for nothing. At the same time, nobody has a monopoly of wisdom.
I was surprised at the remarks of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) since in the last Labour administration he occupied the exalted position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister and later served as Minister in a Department closely associated with this problem—namely, the Ministry of Technology. The hon. Gentleman did not do himself justice when he suggested that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or anybody else had bungled the energy problem. We have all made confident predictions which have proved to be utterly wrong. Fuel forecasting has proved to be one of the most inexact sciences in the world. We have 112 only to look at a document published in November 1967 entitled "Fuel Policy" to see how inexact this science is. We find in that document the sort of assumptions on which Labour's policy was based.
There are one or two sentences in that White Paper which perhaps put the matter in perspective. Under the heading "Security of Supply", we see the following passageBut in the meantime the Government have judged it right to base planning on the assumption that regular and competitively priced supplies of oil will continue to be available to us, as they have been in increasing quantities over the past years.Then if we look under the heading "Adequacy of Fuel Supplies", we see this interesting passage :The prospects for fuel supplies up to 1980"—and let us remember that this was a prediction in 1967—have been examined in some detail with a broad look ahead at developments whose main impact will come later still. The only fuel for which it seems justifiable at this stage to contemplate a degree of conservation because of eventual physical scarcity is North Sea natural gas ; for the remainder there seems no reason why the possibility of exhaustion of reserves should be regarded as a constraint …".Then on page 44, under the heading "Coal" we see the following :The Government have concluded from their analysis of coal's position and prospects in relation to competing fuels that, on any tenable view of the longer-term pattern of energy supplies and costs, the demand for coal will continue to decline.Those were the hallowed words on which the then Labour Government based their policy. It is pointless to quote from what the Prime Minister or anybody else said. The fact is that we have all made terrible mistakes, and I have no doubt that we shall continue to do so. We have to lead life as it is today and not as it might be. I shall refer only to a couple of issues because so much has been covered in the debate. The first is the reality of oil. In spite of what hon. Members opposite and, indeed, what any of us may believe, we cannot run our economy without oil. It is impossible. We have got our plans to such a stage that oil is in a dominating position and will be required for the future.
113 The Arab exporting nations have taken a perfectly reasonable commercial judgment—witnessing international inflation and devaluation of the currencies in which they are paid, that oil is more valuable in the ground rather than at my petrol pump. They will not expand their production in order to take account of our personal needs or the needs of this country. They will regard the whole problem only from their own standpoint, that all fossil fuels can be exhausted and that they are, therefore, sitting on a depleting resource. It may last 40 or even 140 years but one day it will go, and when it has gone they will be back to little desert kingdoms in the Arabian Gulf and nobody will care a row of beans what happens to them.
At the moment the Arabs accumulate large masses of money for this precious resource which we all need, not only this country but the industrialised nations of the world. We must recognise that the Arabs are important fuel producers every bit as important, though in a different context, as our friends in the mining industry. They must look at the long term as well as the short term if they are to be given a future which enables them to recognise that even when their own resources run out they will not be cut off from the source of revenues they now enjoy.
Perhaps they will look more reasonably towards the consuming nations. I suggest—I have had a long commercial involvement with Bahrein, one of our former Protectorates in the Gulf, and other parts of the area—that if one were able to link the large revenue resources of the Arab countries with the development of Western technology and give the Arabs an investment stake in our technology one would, at the same time, be guaranteeing them a longer livelihood in revenue terms over and above what they may be able to get selling their oil.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My hon. Friend exaggerates. I am not suggesting that they should buy ICI, but the ICI directors may have a view about that. My suggestion is that the Arab nations should invest in our technology. I am thinking not merely of the United Kingdom but internationally. 114 That is the way in which we shall persuade them that there is a long-term future for them in selling us the essential commodity that we require. It is no good regarding the Arab oil-producing nations as a group which have something that we need and that we shall get it at all costs, because they will not sell it. We must have an inducement to persuade them to part with this resource and to tie them into technological advances.
We must go for longer-term revenue possibilities. If we do that we may well be able to persuade the Arabs to expand their supply because it is in their interests, every bit as much as in ours.
The other fuel I want to mention is nuclear energy. Many of us have watched this problem over a long period. It was Sir Christopher Hinton at the end of the 1940s who said that in 20 years 80–90 per cent. of electricity would be generated by using nuclear power. Forecasts are fallible, and that one did not come true. But I am concerned by reports of a totally new nuclear technology being introduced into Britain in the shape of the light water reactors, because these have serious environmental dangers attached to them. It could be argued that if we have not had one in Britain we do not know what we are talking about, but, as I understand it, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will no doubt comment on it in winding up, if the water dries out of the system the dangers of overheating and consequent serious explosion are enormously greater than if the gas supply fails in a gas-cooled reactor.
We opted in this country, for whatever reason, for the gas system, and Magnox was the first generation of this type of reactor. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Tarn Dalyell) suggested that we should go back to Magnox, but I do not think that that is the answer. AGR is the next generation up. It is the same broad theory of using a gas coolant rather than water.
I would have thought that with the technology that we have now gained as a result of developing AGR it would have been sensible to go with that rather than move back to Magnox, in spite of the obvious attractions of reverting to a system already tried over the past which has in capital terms been written down as a concept. Nevertheless, to change completely the technology now in the hope 115 of what is described as "buying off the shelf" American reactors is, in my view, far too optimistic. It would be a tragedy, indeed a negation of all that has been done in British technology with the gas-cooled system, if we did that. It would be a terrible disaster for the whole nuclear industry of this country.
AGR is the system that we should continue to promote. Of course there have been problems with this system, and we have had oxidisation of the bolts inside the core. We know this, but the Minister pointed out that we are generating 10 per cent. of our requirements from nuclear power. We should, if we can, resist the American concept and continue with our own.
It is not just our economy that will be affected by the energy problems. The Japanese ran in terror a few days ago when they realised the effect that the energy crisis would have on them. Indeed, Western societies which have been fussing about inflation in the past may well see the other side of that coin in the form of a savage depression in the near future, merely as a result of the lack of energy with which to fuel our prosperity.
Some of my hon. Friends have talked in terms of an energy research body or energy commission. I believe that all the necessary knowledge about the United Kingdom energy problem exists within the Department of Trade and Industry, which embodies the old Fuel and Power Ministry. But what I think would be useful would be to have a permanent international energy commission in permanent session rather like the United Nations, because then one would be able to feed into that body all the nations' energy patterns as they are today and allow nations to draw on the commission's work, which would be continuous so that it could predict with a greater degree of certainty and accuracy what lies ahead for nations in the future.
An international energy commission for the industrialised nations of the world should be established forthwith. The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries exists for those who are selling to us. Our nearest traders dealing with OPEC are the oil companies, which do a first-class job, but because they are necessarily commercial bodies they think in commercial terms. I should like to see 116 along the lines of OPEC, an organisation of the importing countries being able to discover what is the real future for energy resources. An energy commission set up immediately would go some way towards meeting this problem.
I have deliberately not mentioned mining, because I spoke about the industry last week. Whatever happens, cheap energy is gone for ever, every scrap of energy will have to be conserved and new sources found, and an international body should be set up to ensure that we get the best from these various energy sources.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
We would all approve what the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) said in opening and in his final phrase. He said that we were a nation of wasters. When the Beeching axe was being wielded, few Conservative Members were very concerned about rural areas like his, which will now face problems and for which he wants exemptions and freedom from regulation. I am afraid that that is the price that his constituents, like everyone else, will have to pay for the great difficulty that this nation faces.
He said that the days of cheap energy had gone forever. That summed up the subject of this debate : the days of cheap miners have gone for ever. Unless the Government give more thought to this problem than they have done over the last two or three weeks, they will make one of the biggest mistakes of any Government of this century.
Everybody knows that these regulations would have been brought in whether or not there was a miners' overtime ban, and that the whole social and economic policy of the Government has failed abysmally. They are so guilty that they are anxious to transfer their guilt. What better body of men to place it on than the miners? To pretend that this ban has anything to do with the emergency regulations is like saying that I have something to do with the weather. We did not have such regulations when the miners were on strike, yet we have them when they are refusing only to work overtime.
How many industries in Britain work overtime almost as part of the natural working week? Surely there is something basically wrong if it is impossible 117 to get enough manpower to run an industry successfully on the normal working week laid down by the trade unions. If it becomes necessary for the normal working week to be regularly exceeded because of manpower shortage, surely there is something wrong.
Of course, Conservative Members still do not understand that mining is the dirtiest, the most dangerous and almost the most soul-destroying job there is. I should like to quote from a letter in today's Guardian—[AN HON. MEMBER : "Read the leader."] Never mind the leader. I am replying now to the Government's supporters, not to the writer of The Guardian editorial.
Imagine the miners reading this :Even more must this be the case when it is realised that under the offer made by the Coal Board a face worker on a three-shift rota working a full week with customary overtime can receive over £2,800 a year.The Minister knows that if a miner is one minute late he loses a shift. He cannot clock in 15 or 30 minutes late. Once the cage has gone down, he has had it, and no matter how many miles he has come to the pithead he has to go home without earning a penny. For anyone to pretend that any miner will work 49 five-day weeks in a year without having the misfortune—through missing a bus, or because of fog, or some other reason—to miss a shift only shows how far removed such a person is from the mining communities.
On top of this, men like the Lord Chancellor talk about loyalty and patriotism. I know of no group of citizens more loyal or patriotic than the miners. Whenever duty has called, they have left the pits in such numbers that in the First and Second World Wars they had to be sent back from the Armed Forces because without them we could not have got the coal that the nation then required—and which it still requires.
Because of the history of this industry, with its tragedies, for the Press or any Conservative Member to make these men, out to be bullies, or greedy and aggressive people trying to extract the last ounce of blood from the nation, will inevitably embitter already poor relationships.
The hon. Member for New Forest mentioned the oil sheikhs. They have been doing what the property speculators and 118 the land owners in this country have been doing under this Government. At one time, people thought that miners were ignorant—that they could not read or write. That may have been true of some of them, at the turn of the century, when full-time education was just getting under way, but today they can read and write and they know what has been happening under this Government. They have seen a free-for-all in land and property speculation. No one has appealed to the patriotism of the land and property speculators and no one has questioned their loyalty. But what have they produced? If all the property and land speculators went on strike tomorrow, if the City of London went on strike, and if the Stock Exchange closed with no one prepared to work overtime, life would go on as if nothing had happened. Yet when 250,000 men decide not to work overtime they are supposed to be responsible, in the main, for a national state of emergency.
The present situation enables the Government to attempt to transfer guilt, but that view is taken not only on the Government benches. The same ignorance is to be found in even more enlightened citadels. I was in one of our embassies recently, learning about the shocking pensions paid to those who serve in our embassies. I said, "If that is how this Government are treating you, it is shocking". I went on to explain how the same Government last year doubled the miner's pension. I assured my audience that at one fell swoop the miner's pension had been doubled, and I explained that after working down a mine for 40 years the miner is now given the handsome pension of £3 a week. But still we get the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) and others writing to The Guardian letters of the kind that I have just mentioned.
We are short of manpower in this industry. If the Lord Chancellor and those who share his views are loyal and dedicated, they should now start a recruiting campaign in the stockbroker belt, amongst Young Conservatives, and in various other spheres where they have great influence. There are vacancies in the mines. They can have these wonderful well-paid jobs, full of glamour and glitter. I hope that such a campaign will be started so 119 that we can see them giving practical expression to their loyalty and patriotism.
We are in difficulties, but the truth is that if the miners resumed normal working tonight we should still be in difficulties. Therefore, it is very wrong for the Prime Minister or anyone else to pretend that miners are seeking a confrontation and that this is a matter between the miners, the people and Parliament. The Prime Minister has to realise this week what other Western nations have had to realise in the past few years. We went through a period when no one would talk to the East. Then there was a period when, obligingly, we followed to the letter whatever America said about the Communist countries, including Russia. We know full well that by standing firm we do not get anywhere. We have had to agree to compromise. Likewise, in the Middle East, where both sides acted as if their feet were stuck in concrete and neither could move, there had to be moves as a consequence of what happened in October.
I beg the Minister to convey to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that if he wins his battle with the miners he will have lost the country's future, but that if he exercises common sense and wisdom, and realises that one out of every hundred of our workers feels that because of the nature of his job, because of its danger, and because of the importance of the commodity which he produces, he is entitled to something better than he has been offered so far, the right hon. Gentleman will be going some way to solving the present difficulty. If he does that, even though some of his own supporters may curse him I am satisfied that British industry and British history will bless him.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
The steps taken by the Government over petroleum need to be seen to be fair and need to be effective. I am not entirely sure that certain forms of exhortation are either fair or effective. I take, for example, the exhortation to people not to abstain from leisure motoring but to abstain from leisure motoring on Sundays. That is manifestly unfair to 120 those who work a six-day week and see Sunday as the only day on which they can relax. It does not affect in the same way people who are at liberty to indulge in leisure motoring on Saturdays. That is an example of a measure which even if it may be effective, which is problematical, most certainly is not fair.
There are other measures that the Minister should take which would be reasonable in the prevailing circumstances. Clause 4 has the side-heading :Power to relax statutory and contractual obligations, etc.One of the statutory obligations that we have inherited from the 1920s is that petrol may not be stored in a can containing more than two gallons. The jerrican has been approved for safety for 25 years, and that happens to hold 4½ gallons.
In the prevailing circumstances there are many instances where people may need, quite properly, to have a small store of petrol in excess of two gallons. Take the case of someone with an elderly relative living some way away on his or her own. Now that garages, quite reasonably, are shut at night, it is understandable that such a person may wish to have up to, say 10 gallons of petrol safely stored so that it may be used for personal emergencies, bearing in mind the difficulty that he would experience if he set out in the knowledge that probably there was no garage open and that his car was nearly empty. I suggest that in looking for ways of cutting petrol consumption my hon. Friend should not restrict its storage in reasonable quantities.
I should like to suggest some measures of proved effectiveness for reducing the total consumption of fuel. One is a speed limit. I had forgotten how sensitive fuel consumption is to speed. I was intrigued to find that in a seven-year old Ford Cortina Estate I can get 33 miles to the gallon at 50 mph. It came as quite a surprise.
I will let my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry into a secret. During the national fuel crisis in 1956, when I was an apprentice in the Midlands, I used to offer friends and acquaintances a petrol-saving device to be fitted by me. I would not tell them what it was. I charged them £1 a head, but they could have their money back if they did not get a 10 per 121 cent. saving in their fuel bills. I sold seven of these devices. Nobody asked for his money back. All I did was to fit another throttle spring. Most of us are creatures of habit. A second throttle spring has the effect of not opening the throttle quite so wide and not accelerating the engine quite so hard. It has the added virtue that it is also a contribution to safety. If the accelerator linkage comes apart—it sometimes does—the second throttle spring located against the actuating arm on the carburettor increases safety.
Increasing tyre pressures is one of the oldest tricks in the trade. Anyone who used to be interested in the national economy rally sponsored by the Mobil Oil Company will recall the high tyre pressures used by competitors. I do not suggest going to those extremes, but if all put 21b. or 31b. more pressure in their tyres the rolling resistance would be marginally reduced and overall we might get a national reduction in fuel consumption of about 1 per cent. This advice should be tinged with the caution that one or two models, owing to their suspension design, need a gross disparity between front and rear tyre pressures—for example, the Hillman Imp. Therefore, it would be useful if manufacturers would circulate garages and publish a table showing revised increased tyre pressures. This measure could sensibly contribute to fuel economy. Incidentally, at the recommended reduced cruising speeds, any increase in tyre wear would be infinitesimal.
Another measure that people could be encouraged to take is to fit a new thermostat set so that the engine runs hotter. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) mentioned waste of fuel. It is amazing how much of the petrol that we burn is consumed in heating water in the radiator which transfers the heat to the cold air from outside flowing through it and out again underneath the car. To fit a thermostat which operates at a higher temperature, particularly in winter, means that the engine warms up quicker and, therefore, its rate of wear is less, and a higher proportion of the heat generated by burning the petrol does useful work instead of being wasted.
Connoisseurs may recall that until the last war that imposing radiator on the 122 front of a Rolls-Royce had slats which opened and shut operated by a thermostat. I know of a 1933 Rolls-Royce 20/25 which appeared to defeat all the immortal laws of thermodynamics. That old car, weighing 2½ tons and with a compression ratio of about 4½ to 1, nevertheless gave 23 miles to the gallon because, until the engine reached a temperature over 90 degrees Centigrade—about 10 degrees below the boiling point of water—the slats in the radiator remained shut and it did not waste the heat generated by burning the petrol and then having air flowing needlessly through the radiator. The economics of our manufacturers returning to thermostatically controlled radiators rather than merely to thermostatic control of the water flowing through the system could be very attractive. It may not have paid when fuel was cheap, but now that fuel is likely to be increasingly expensive into the foreseeable future, I suggest that this is a direction in which manufacturers could turn.
I offer those four suggestions to my hon. Friend : fit a second throttle spring, fit a thermostat which enables the engine to run hotter, increase tyre pressures all round and, if necessary, have a speed limit. The saving on fuel nationally will be amazing. Incidentally, except for the speed limit, my three other suggestions have the great merit that they do not require any enforcement. People will be taking action which saves them money and the police will not be involved in extra work.
Raising the limit on the size of containers in which petrol may be stored—not in one's house or underneath it—for emergencies will reduce the necessity for trivial prosecutions because somebody has stored petrol in a jerrican, which reasonable people have been doing quite safely for 25 years.
Lastly, I should like to refer to sewage gas. In the predictable future, as this country's population increases, we shall be producing even more sewage. Therefore, we have an increasing potential domestic supply of methane gas. Practically the whole of this potential source of supply is being wasted in a manner which is environmentally offensive. We should divert far more thought now to making sure that new sewage plants are designed to convert sewage into methane 123 gas. We have a good opportunity of doing this now because we are sweeping away the welter of tiny second-tier local authorities, each of which was a sewage authority, which tended to produce a proliferation of tiny sewage plants that, frankly, could not economically be geared to the production of methane gas. Now that sewage disposal is to be done on a much larger scale under the reorganisation of local government, surely this is the right moment to direct our attention not, as it were, to combining business with pleasure but to deriving a useful source of fuel and at the same time reducing the pollution of the environment.
If we take these measures instead of ineffective exhortations not to do things which in some cases are utterly reasonable—for instance, relaxing on a Sunday—I think we shall achieve a much greater reduction in fuel consumption with which we are able to live. We shall get into good habits for the future even if our oil supplies again flow normally.
I hope that we shall not retain a speed restriction any longer than is absolutely necessary. But there is no reason why, if and when our oil supplies revert to normal, cars should not have two throttle springs and a proper control over the temperature at which air is admitted to the radiators. These things will save the nation foreign currency even if we do not have a physical shortage of fuel.
When the Bill has been given a Third Reading and become law I hope that, in applying the powers within it, and, indeed, informing the public in the normal way, my hon. Friend will lend a sympathetic ear to the suggestions that I have made.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for his help ful motoring hints. I, for one, will take account of them and try to profit in my own motoring when I return to my constituency at the weekend.
After listening carefully to the opening speech of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, one might ask whether the new Secretary of State will stand up. From the recent brash, ebullient Cabinet Minister spelling out the phoney suc 124 cesses of the Government week after week and reporting marvellous export figures—to the dismay of the Treasury, I might add—we heard today a sober, depressed and disillusioned Minister no doubt reflecting the state of the Government, and certainly reflecting their depression in extolling their policies.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech was not clear, especially in what he said about rationing, and I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister for Industry will tell us a great deal more than we have heard so far. The hon. Gentleman must allay the fears of commerce and industry. He must allay the fears of people in remote areas in Scotland, in Wales and in other places. He must, above all, allay the fears of the disabled—especially disabled drivers—and those who depend upon heating for their very survival.
Has the Minister considered carefully the ramifications of the proposal to allocate coupons from post offices? If there is one place that is overburdened as a result of the Government's policies, it is the post office. Apart from having to pay out pensions, most of the unemployed get their money through the Giro system. The attendance allowance, the family income supplement and even the controversial butter coupons have to be dealt with at local post offices.
Apart from the general business of selling stamps, can anyone imagine what will happen at a small sub-post office in my area if it has to deal with the allocation of welfare benefits and at the same time contend with a string of people waiting for their allocation of petrol coupons or asking for supplementary allowance forms?
The system for the allocation of these coupons and the distribution of forms for supplementary allowances will not work. I say that because from talking to post masters—or post mistresses—one learns that they are already overburdened as a result of existing legislation. The Government should use motor taxation offices or find some other means for distributing these coupons. There are now about 16 million vehicles on our roads. These coupons are to be allocated towards the end of November, and I can see a lot of misunderstanding, anger and frustration in store for the motorist.
125 I should like the Minister to deal with two matters relating to oil. In a wide-ranging speech, covering all the different sources of fuel, the Secretary of State spent some time dealing with oil. In a debate in the other place on Wednesday, 21st November, it was said that we should be able to produce 200 million tons of oil annually from the North Sea fields, but Lord Drumalbyn, the Minister without Portfolio, said that the figure of 200 million tons put forward by Lord Balogh was totally unrealistic and that the maximum figure by 1980 would be 70 million tons. The Minister must accept that there is a large discrepancy between those figures, and I hope he will tell the House whether the figure is 200 million tons a year, or 70 million as stated by Lord Drumalbyn.
Several hon. Members have made the realistic suggestion that the Government should create an energy commission. I support the suggestion that there should be an international energy commission, but a Government spokesman in the other place said that the energy commission had been considered and ruled out by the Government for several reasons. I hope that the Minister will tell us some of the several reasons for ruling out the setting up of an energy commission. I am sure that all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate would like to know what they are.
An energy policy, as both a short-term and a long-term project, is essential if we are to survive as an industrial nation. What has come out of the debate today—particularly in the intelligent speeches by the miners' representatives—is that there cannot be a realistic energy policy until there is a viable coal industry, and the industry will not be viable if 600 men leave every year.
§ Mr. McElhone
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That makes the position even more serious. It ill becomes the Government to use the miners as a whipping boy for the failure of their phase 3 policy, when we read about Lord Samuel leaving his office £1½ million richer as a result of the Government policies. When a miner learns that, to him the turning down of a justified claim for an increase in his wages must seem 126 unfair and unjust, and in my opinion it is obscene.
We heard good speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). It was said that we should concentrate a great deal more on public transport. We are paying the price for the severe cuts made by Lord Beeching.
The fuel crisis will not disappear even if we settle the miners' dispute at an early date, because one thing that has come through the debate today is that we must sit down and work out an energy policy to ensure that we do not face a similar crisis year after year.
Clause 4 worries me. The explanatory and financial memorandum says on page ii :
Clause 4 also enables the Secretary of State to authorise the use of public service vehicles without compliance with certain licensing requirements as to the vehicles and drivers and conductors and to authorise drivers to exceed permitted driving hours.
§ Has the Minister consulted the appropriate trade union about exceeding the number of hours normally worked by lorry drivers? Does he mean that by allowing the normal licensing rules to be waived vehicles which are normally regarded as not roadworthy will be accepted for use in this emergency? Clause 4 is important to the T and GWU, and certainly to the road haulage section of it, because it has certain implications for the standards of vehicles and standards of licensing imposed by the 1968 Transport Act.
§ Will churches and places of worship be exempt from these restrictions? Many churches and places of worship are used by elderly people during the winter for meetings and as somewhere to go. They mean a great deal to many disabled people and pensioners in my area.
§ Although we are not opposing the Bill, we must ask that the Government learn from this crisis. They can best learn by acknowledging the justice of the miners' case.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
No one wants to see the imposition of controls of any sort, but I congratulate my right hon. Friend for introducing this Bill, which I am sure is absolutely necessary in present 127 circumstances. I agree with those who say that this has nothing to do with the miners' strike. At least, it is not entirely to do with that. It is part and parcel of an international fuel crisis which has overtaken the Western world. In the short term I agree that the miners' dispute is obviously a vital factor. Whether or not it had happened, I put it to the House that eventually we would have had to consider the whole concept of energy conservation.
I was glad that the Front Benches were not in serious opposition. Both sides of the House realise that this is not a short-term matter but something that we have to overcome, not this month or next month but over the next four or five years. It is to that point I wish to address myself. From the short-term point of view it is essential that the Government should be satisfied that the voluntary processes they have introduced will be sufficient to allow them to carry on for a period without introducing compulsory rationing.
Secondly, we have obviously got to restrict maximum speeds and investigate other areas of potential saving. One question that has not been raised is that of private aircraft flying—the executive jet, for instance. What is the good of our driving at 50 m.p.h. when someone thinks it is important to go from Edinburgh to Glasgow in an executive jet using about 150 times the amount of fuel that we are conserving? We in this House do all we can to conserve petrol. These are the considerations and factors which Ministers must bear in mind.
This is a difficult problem, and it will take a long time before we discover all the wastefulness that is taking place in our economy. I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McEl-hone) about the burden that will be placed upon post offices. I would point out to him that the Post Office has always been used for this process. It may take a little longer, but I am certain that the Post Office will be able to deal with it.
I am glad that no one will be given any petrol until he has produced his road fund licence. This is one of the most important things the Minister can do to ensure that people buy road fund licences. 128 It is a very sad thing that we have had to enter into rationing. Some time ago the Financial Times said that it may be a blessing in disguise, because it has drawn the nation's attention to some of the difficulties that will face us.
We do not stand alone. It is not simply a question of oil, it is a question of our entire energy policy. This crisis has drawn the attention to the nation to the fact that in the next five, 10 or 15 years we must look to other sources of energy, particularly nuclear energy and coal, as well as any other sources upon which we can lay our hands. Our economy and our civilisation depend upon the conservation of energy.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)
The hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) has directed our minds towards the lessons that we should be learning from this emergency and this national crisis. It is a crisis for the Government and for all politicians.
It is palpably clear that over the past 20 years, certainly since the war, we have bungled our way through transport and energy policies. As a relative newcomer to this place, perhaps I may say a few words without offending colleagues who have been here far longer than I have. It seems that over the past 25 years politicians have been incapable of penetrating the minds of civil servants, who have clearly advised Government of all political persuasions on transport and energy matters, with such disastrous consequences. We now know that they all got it wrong.
The Government made a grave mistake in not introducing rationing much earlier. It is obvious that there is an emergency situation. The crisis facing us in terms of oil supplies was to be seen six weeks and more ago, and the danger was there probably long before that. The Government should have contemplated introducing rationing much earlier, because they might well have been able to introduce a milder form of rationing than that which they may now have to introduce.
The Government could save a great deal of fuel if they were to ban military aircraft from low flying or contour flying during the period of the crisis. I shall not reiterate the arguments that I presented in an Adjournment debate that I had recently. 129 Every month, 700 exercises take place over Central and South-West Wales, and the same applies over many areas of England, too. Military aircraft fly at only 200 feet above sea level. The Ministry of Defence asserts that this is necessary for the defence of the nation. In this crisis of energy supplies this is an area in which the Government can impose a mammoth restriction. This low-flying activity is highly unpopular amongst the inhabitants of my constituency. Between 7,000 and 8,000 low-flying flights take place each year over the whole of Wales. Before the Government ask ordinary people to impose restraint on themselves they should themselves make a massive contribution to fuel saving by stopping these flights.
It is a tragedy that rural areas and the farming community are now utterly dependent on the private car. Governments of both political persuasions have missed the point about the value of public transport. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, 800 miles of railway line were closed in Wales, on the assumption that alternative bus services would be provided. By the early 1970s any alternative bus services that were provided will be going into extinction. Because of the lack of alternative services, people in rural areas are to a much greater degree than people living in urban areas dependent on the private car. I therefore ask the Minister to confirm that priority will be given to people living in these areas, as well as to rural bus operators.
I want to say a few words on the question of the miners' dispute. My constituency is not regarded as a mining constituency, although a large part of my constituency has had many miners over the years and well over 1,000 of my constituents are miners now. My father works in a coalmine, though not below the surface.
But, knowing how we have bungled our energy policies over the past 20 years, knowing how we have failed to make coal the cornerstone of our energy policy—although it is the only reserve upon which we can rely, since we have nearly 200 years' supply—I would say to the Government that the question here is not just the special case of the miners, although they do have a special case, but the special case of the coal industry, and the contribution which it can make 130 to the long-term energy requirements of this country.
The decline in manpower in the coal mining industry has reached such a state that we must take steps to ensure that in five years' time there will be sufficient miners in the industry. The danger signal which we are now seeing is that the experienced men are leaving. Last Friday, I visited a colliery just outside my constituency, and the management, as well as representatives of the unions, said that the men in their 30s and 40s, who are experienced in working in the most difficult conditions, are leaving because the wages are not competitive and because of the bad working conditions. Furthermore, many of them see their wives coming home with wages which are not far short of their own.
The miners in my constituency are not seeking a political confrontation with this Government ; rather they shudder to think what will happen to their jobs if their colleagues leave the industry at the present rate. They are apprehensive about the future. They are just as dubious of Labour's record in office as they are of the record of the present Government, so there is no question of political confrontation and it is foolish to say that there is. The major mistake of the Government was to make the wage demand in the coal industry part of phase 3 policy. It should have nothing to do with phase 3 policy. If the Government want a coal industry, they must stem the tide of coal miners who are leaving and that should be the first item on the agenda when the Prime Minister meets representatives of the NUM on Wednesday. There are many who fear that it might now be too late to do what is necessary, and that it should have been done years ago. Unless the Government do something in the next few days, it will be seen that we have learned nothing from the emergencies of the last 25 years.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I rise to ask the Minister a question on a constituency matter. The glass industry in my constituency of St. Helens employs about 25,000 workers of all types, and is entirely dependent upon oil. I understand that the Minister has had the facts put to him by the industry itself, but I should like to know from him tonight 131 what he has done to ensure that my constituents are not unemployed as a result of the emergency. I hope that when he meets the NUM executive, the Prime Minister will discuss the emergency as it really is and will not attribute any blame whatsoever to the miners.
The Prime Minister will be well advised to remember that Her Majesty the Queen signed the emergency powers on the first day of the miners' overtime ban. I trust that hon. Members on the Government Front Bench will carry that expression of opinion from myself to the Prime Minister. None of us wants a confrontation. I believe that the real confrontation is between the Middle East oil nations, on the one hand, and the British Government and all Governments in the Western world, on the other. I hope that when the Prime Minister discusses the miners' pay claim he will remember that miners are leaving the industry at the rate of at least 700 a year
§ Mr. Spriggs
My hon. Friend says that they are leaving at the rate of 700 a week ; it is much worse than I thought.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I do not think the industry could stand their leaving at the rate of 700 a week. I think a correction is required here. Large numbers of trained miners are leaving the industry, to such an extent that we cannot allow this process to continue. Miners are leaving the industry to go into "dolls'-eye industries". I went into an engineering factory and asked the sweeper what his earnings were and he said "I can earn up to £35 a week." Good luck to the man. I hope he continues to get that kind of pay. But when miners leave the industry and go into the glass industry as labourers, stacking cases of bottles in the warehouses, and take home more than they can earn in a basic week's wage in the coal industry, there is something wrong with the valuation of jobs.
A little while ago one of my hon. Friends referred to the policy of the Middle East oil States. Some of us knew—in fact, I take it that most of us knew—of the future policy of the oil 132 nations. Many years ago they were watching and waiting to see the development of the oil markets in the Western world. We saw the steam engine displaced by the diesel locomotive. We saw traffic on our roads increase to about 20 million vehicles, while trains ran at less than 50 per cent. of capacity. Yet no one took any action.
The glass industry turned over from coal to oil. As I said to the Minister a few moments ago, the glass industry is now fully dependent on oil, and this is what the oil States of the Middle East have been waiting for. This is why I say that the real confrontation is between the Governments of the Western world and the oil States. We were told in clear terms what their intentions were at least eight or nine years ago, when I was in Saudi Arabia. We were told that they would at least double their profits, and now we have seen the result of our becoming almost fully dependent on oil.
Which nation or group of nations would not use the power that is in the hands of the Middle East States today? It has long been known that the countries which held power over the supply of oil could control the foreign policies of the world, and they have come damned near to it, as we all know to our regret.
I hope that when he meets the NUM on Wednesday morning the Prime Minister will recall that actions for which the Government are responsible have reduced the real value of wages. I hope that he will also remember the Industrial Relations Act. Government actions have not been in line with the policy the Prime Minister told us about at the time of the General Election in 1970, when he said that Conservatives believed in one nation and that he would deal with prices and unemployment at a stroke. Since then we have learnt what it means to have such a Government elected on such false promises.
We have seen the Housing Finance Act. Some rents in St. Helens have increased by between 300 per cent. and 500 per cent. Young families have asked me, "Can something be done to make rents more commensurate with our earnings?" Young family men have refused the first council house ever offered to them because they could not afford the rents.
I am sorry to see that my time is up. I shall finish with one point. I ask the Minister to pass on to the Prime Minister the message that there is a way out, but we must take emergency measures. That way out is through investment in the kind of transport that will relieve the rest of the country, taking the pressure off oil and petrol demand. I appeal to the Minister to do all in his power to bring about the reopening of railway lines, the reintroduction of passenger services and the electrification of those railway lines not already earmarked for electrification.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) has just said. He had to curtail his speech, but I want to take up one or two of his points.
The Secretary of State appeared in a somewhat unusual rôle today. He was very quiet and unprovocative. He is clearly coming to grips—no doubt slowly—with the magnitude of the problems confronting the country. We are grateful for the information we have been given and hope to be kept fully informed.
We support the Bill, though it takes massive powers. The Government's decision must be seen as a wise precaution. Their rationing plans, carried out in the way that they propose, on a speculative basis, as it were, clearly give a little more time for consideration of the way in which they should be introduced, if necessary. To be candid, we shall judge by results. We shall want to see that the plans are fair and equitable. We shall want to see that under a voluntary rationing scheme there are not difficulties which could be eliminated under a compulsory scheme. We shall want to see that industries' needs are properly catered for. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens mentioned a case in point. We shall be especially concerned with the old and the disabled, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) said. We shall look after the interests of the rural areas. We shall watch very care 134 fully to see what happens when the commuter is decanted on to a decaying public transport system. This will lead to much new thinking on a number of very important issues.
I confide in you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my sense of horror that somehow, as the energy crisis hits Britain, the people who are being vilified more than any others are the miners, when they were the people who, earlier than any others, identified exactly the nature of the crisis that would confront us. This is astonishing when one remembers hearing my hon. Friends the Members for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright), Don Valley (Mr. Kelley), Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and others, year after year in the House, warning successive Governments, including the Government of which I was a member, that we could not rely for ever on cheap oil and that we must use our indigenous resources.
At the very moment when the miners are proved to have been absolutely right the Government spit in their faces and charge them with trying to undermine democracy and the constitution. [Interruption.] I speak strongly, because that is how I feel. I feel that it is unfair, because I remember that Joe Gormley, as a member of the National Executive of the Labour Party at the time of the 1967 White Paper, fought as hard as he could against that White Paper introduced by the Government of which I was a member.
The miners' loyalty to this country has been established time and again. Because it suits the Conservative Party at this moment to bring this charge against Joe Gormley, Lawrence Daly and the miners, it is prepared to brush aside all their past record of loyalty to the country. I wanted to say that, because the House of Commons is nothing if it is not a place where the facts can be stated and where convictions can be properly expressed.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman mistakes the position if he thinks that Governments give wage increases. Governments do not give wage increases.—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary had better be patient. What happened last year was that the miners took action, and the Government were very hostile, to begin with. Indeed, the Government could have settled earlier on a different basis, more favourable, they would think, to themselves. They let this go on. They were defeated by public opinion, and Wilberforce gave them the opportunity to change. But the present Cabinet must not claim the credit for the present level of wages of miners, because it was the trade unions that got them for the miners. If the House wants to know why miners are loyal to their unions, I can tell hon. Members that it is because they know that, whatever Government are in power, the standard of living of the miners depends primarily upon a strong National Union of Mineworkers. Let that be clearly said.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not believe the Sunday Express, because I have read so many lies in it. I am not prepared to confirm whatever is said in the Sunday Express. I am coming to the argument that has been put forward. But if I am asked the simple question whether I believe the Sunday Express, or even what is quoted in the Sunday Express, the answer must necessarily be "No". One has only to look at the cartoon in today's Daily Express to see the way in which that newspaper is trying to whip up public feeling against the miners. It is a disgrace that that should be done, and the hon. Gentleman's question gives me the opportunity to say so.
The miners foresaw this crisis. Very few others did. The Conservative Party, when in opposition, was not discouraging towards the policy which we pursued and which it now criticises. The implications of the crisis are formidable for the whole economy, for the balance of payments, for the possible effect on world trade, perhaps causing a cut-back of production in Japan and elsewhere. It has implications also in the possible long-term effects on growth.
136 The Arabs may well be only the first of the developing nations to realise the strength possessed by countries which have access to raw materials which we need. Far from looking forward to the halcyon glorious days of North Sea oil, we may well have to recognise that other developing countries will realise that the Fabian Society's commonwealth and colonies bureau is not their strongest weapon for raising their standard of living. They may learn the lesson which British workers have learned, that those who organise and argue may do better. This problem, therefore, could be the beginning of a quite different relationship between the developed and the developing world.
We shall have many debates on energy, so I shall just touch on some of the issues which are raised today. I refer, first, to the speech of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson), which was heard with great interest by the House. Of course, the Arabs' policy of conservation may well be in their own long-term interests. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman hinted at that himself. Remembering how the British treated the Arabs when we had the whip hand, occupying Egypt from 1882 to 1956, I hope that we shall not feel ourselves uniquely qualified to lecture the Arabs on how they should behave when they find oil which is capable of beng developed.
Although the issues of the Middle East war have precipitated much of the immediacy of our crisis, we are bound to face, as anyone who has followed the statements of the OPEC countries knows, a long-term policy of conservation by the Arabs until they have the equipment to make use of the oil to their own countries' maximum advantage. It is a policy which responsible people in this country are urging us to follow in respect of our North Sea resources—that we ought not to suck them up in one great gulp but should make use of our own reserves according to our own strategy to benefit this country.
There is also the whole question of Britain's relationship with the Common Market. Without doubt, sitting as it does on massive coal reserves and on the oil which is available in the Continental Shelf, this country has a very powerful position vis-à-vis the Common Market. It is not at all clear that it is in Britain's 137 interests, whoever may be the Government, that we should accept that, because we are in the Common Market, those reserves should be seen as European reserves. Indeed, our position now for renegotiating the disastrous common agricultural policy is much stronger because we are sitting on these massive reserves. That also must be looked at again.
The national interest must be paramount as the Government consider the position of our own raw materials. In this connection, we should not forget the Icelandic fishing dispute, which some people laughed off as a little cod war in an Ealing Studios film. These events could be the beginning of a pattern of conflict over raw materials, and our North Sea reserves have to be seen for what they are, as an essential national British interest, not to be traded away as a result of some vague obsession about the benefits of a United Europe.
Another issue raised by the debate is the need for an integrated fuel policy. So much has been said about this that I need add little, save to emphasise the reversal of the policy for the rundown of the coal mines, begun by the Coal Industry Bill first put on the Order Paper in 1970 under my name as the Minister then responsible, the need to preserve a national capability in reactors and not to buy the American light water reactor, and the need to develop our own systems. All these things have now to be brought into the picture for discussion. There is a need for massive capital investment, not only for the development of our indigenous resources but for the better utilisation of fuel by the electrification of our railways and the shift from private to public transport, and all the things which have been said by other groups of workers. It should not pass our notice that it was not only the miners who were right about coal ; the railwaymen were right about the railways.
§ Mr. Benn
The Secretary of State had better be a bit careful, because the Beeching proposals were introduced by the Conservative Government. When, with the benefit of hindsight, we contrast the wisdom of civil servants and the intellectual establishment with the 138 wisdom of the people with knowledge of the industry, the people with knowledge of the industry often turn out to be right. I have said that about my own Government. The right hon. Gentleman had better not try to score party points.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I am not trying to score party points, but the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the Labour Government pursued a very vigorous policy of closing both coal mines and railways. The present Government, in their three years of office, have reversed that policy in both industries. However, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that a future Labour Government will not take the advice of civil servants and that the policy will be to follow the aspirations of workers?
§ Mr. Benn
The Secretary of State is at his best when writing Press releases for the Conservative Central Office. Let me deal with the matter in respect of a current issue. The British Steel Corporation's corporate plan—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman knows that when we pursued that policy in office, his party, in opposition, said that we should go faster with the closure policy. The point is that, in the event, the men with knowledge of the industry—the men like the steel workers at Shotton, East Moors and elsewhere—have turned out to be, with the benefit of hindsight, more right than the Minister or other Governments. If the right hon. Gentleman had been present—I know that he had to be late—he would have heard my remarks about Joe Gormley and the 1967 White Paper.
I come to the charge, which is widely made, that the miners are engaged in breaking the law. This is the central charge, and I want the House seriously to consider the position. There is no breach of the law by the National Union of Mine-workers. Under the Counter-Inflation Act, about which the House should know because it passed it recently, the procedure is that the Government set up a Pay Board. The House approved a Price and Pay Code. That code has no legal authority. The question of legal authority arises only if a restriction order on remuneration is made by the Pay Board on a proposed settlement. There is no proposed settlement ; there is a negotiation. No order against any settlement has been made by the Pay Board. Moreover, 139 if there were an order against the settlement and the NUM disregarded it, only the Attorney-General could give authority to proceed against the NUM. Even then, according to Schedule 2 of the Act, the Minister has power to override the Pay Board at any time he chooses.
Therefore, there is no substance whatever, no shadow of substance, for saying that the NUM is engaged in breaking the law, in threatening to break the law or in doing anything other than engage in a negotiation in support of a claim which has wide public support.
§ Mr. Skeet rose—
§ Mr. Benn
I gave way once to the hon. Gentleman ; he gave way once to me. I wish to continue with my argument.
The Government have decided to use the Counter-Inflation Act as an instrument of psychological warfare against the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ Mr. Skeet rose—
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards rose—
§ Mr. Benn
Hon. Gentlemen will have to wait for me to complete my argument. I cannot give way.
I ask the Minister to answer these questions. What law is now being broken? Under what sections of which Act is the law being broken? What order has the Pay Board made which the miners are threatening to overturn? Why has no order been made by the Attorney-General to release action in the courts? Has the National Coal Board acted under Section 33(4) of the Industrial Relations Act to bring an action against the miners because of the overtime ban? The hon. Gentleman knows very well that not one of those questions can he answer.
What has happened—and the House should know this if it cares about parliamentary democracy—is this. The Government have off-loaded political decisions on to the courts and the Pay Board and are trying to pretend that they can draw from the courts legal authority for what is purely party political propaganda. The Government have no more right to lay down the law of the land and describe 140 what the law is than to hand to a court political decisions that should be taken by Ministers in responsible positions. This is a form of deliberate confusion designed to build for the Government a commanding position in public opinion.
The second argument—which is even more ridiculous—is that this is a threat to the constitution and to parliamentary democracy from miners who are paid so little that 600 or 700 are leaving the industry every week. If the present wastage rate continues, more men could leave the industry now than left at the time when the Labour Government were engaged in the closure programme. Here again, as has happened so often during the last three-and-a-half years, the Government have no understanding of the people with whom they are dealing. Government supporters in weekend speeches imply that the union leaders are the militants and that if we only asked the rank and file there would never be a strike. That was tried with the railwaymen, and when the ballot was taken the railwaymen supported their leaders. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will attend the meeting at No. 10 on Wednesday. If the Prime Minister treats the miners' leaders as if they were not truly representative of the miners he will make the biggest mistake of his life—and he has made many other mistakes.
The Government think that the unions are the problem, whereas the real problem is recruiting men into the mines. If Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly joined the Primrose League tomorrow the miners would continue to leave the pits. Unless the Government are prepared to pay the miners enough that problem cannot be solved.
§ Mr. Benn
The right hon. Gentleman says "outrageous", but what is he trying to do? Is he trying to make overtime compulsory? Is he saying that if men will not work overtime they are, in effect, 141 undermining the Government? The Conservative Party seems to imagine that by shouting it can divert the Labour Party from giving its support to the National Union of Mine workers. They know nothing of the NUM or of the Labour Party if they think that either could ever be separated one from the other.
I come now to the Bill. It takes powers which are permanent—this is not a temporary provisions Bill—and cover all fuels. I welcome the Bill because it will enable a Labour Government to do all they want under Labour's programme for Britain, including 90 per cent. of our policy for the North Sea. The Minister said today that this power will remain dormant on the statute book for any Government to use. It will give us the power to control all the oil companies, all the multi-nationals, to fix their prices and their distribution systems ; and under these powers every other fuel and its use, including the chemical industry, will be brought within the control of the Government of the day. This will include road transport and private transport.
If the Secretary of State reads his own speech tomorrow, he will see how many powers there were and how he himself boasted of them. It will include control over prices. Therefore, we welcome the Bill because it is one of a long line of measures brought forward by a Government elected to follow the laws of supply and demand. The Bill will give the Government enormous powers—far greater than any powers we have ever suggested should be taken in the area of fuel and power.
I come to the last question to which the House will wish to give attention. I refer to the long-term effect of the energy crisis on the hopes for growth. Behind the party argument and the controversy there are many people, both inside and outside the House, who now wonder whether the energy crisis, depending on the form it takes, its duration, and the spread of its effects, will have a major effect on the prospects for economic growth—growth not just in this country but in Western industrial society as a whole. We have to consider the alternative to the dream of continued growth—a dream which has been built into the manifesto of both parties in this country for nearly 30 years—to realise what it 142 would mean were this dream of growth to turn out not to be a reality.
The alternatives are a future clamp down to zero growth or a future that might even have some elements of serious recession in it. Nobody in the House could view such a future with anything but the deepest gloom. But if this is the position, it is possible that the crisis we are debating today will be remembered not because of the exchanges about the miners across the table but for the fact that it was at this meeting of Parliament that we first began to come to grips with the possibility that all sorts of measures and new political choices will have to be considered. It will affect both parties and the country and will require us to think aloud about what needs to be done.
For the Conservative Party it amounts to the difficulty of being a Government elected on a programme that could not be discharged. For the Labour Party, we are a party which in some respects has put growth as a substitute for equality over the years. If growth is not to come in the quantities we want, then we shall have to argue much more fiercely about the distribution of what there is. This will pose serious difficulties for us. If this is the situation we face, if the problems we have discussed today with relatively good humour and sincerity are to be the problems with which Britain will have to live, then this moment above all is the moment when we as Members of Parliament should speak our minds, whatever the consequences may be. We must say what we think, and believe, if we are to discharge our obligation to our constituents and to the House.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give candid answers to the questions that I have put to him and give us some idea what the long-term implications of the development may be, so that that greater discussion and debate may begin on this Bill which the Opposition will support this evening.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has made a speech which he will regret. It was a highly irresponsible speech. I will return to most of it later and will deal with some of the points he raised.
143 The right hon. Gentleman expressed surprise that, at the time at which the energy crisis has hit us, the people who are vilified, to use his words, should be the miners. That is unfair and untrue. The responsibility for disregarding the advice, not just from the miners but from many others, lies fair and square on the shoulders of the Opposition, and on none more than the right hon. Gentleman.
What did the Opposition produce during their administration? They produced a White Paper in 1967—and I suggest that hon. Members opposite should read it. The White Paper proposed one of the most massive rundowns of the coal industry, one of the most massive rundowns proposed at any time for any industry. [An HON. MEMBER : "It was done with Conservative support."] In the nuclear field the White Paper produced the AGR programme, which can hardly be claimed to have been an outstanding success so far.
The right hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. He said that we—presumably the National Coal Board—were making overtime compulsory. The right hon. Gentleman had ministerial responsibility for this industry for a long time. In view of his ministerial responsibility, of which I need hardly remind him, he will know that in the 1947 five-day wage agreement, which is the basis of all the industry's wage agreements, it is stated :… the Union, through its Area or local representatives will enter into arrangements with the Board to provide for the regular working of additional shifts by certain categories of workmen where the working of such additional shifts is necessary to ensure safety of the pit.The making of overtime compulsory rests upon the obligations for maintenance of safety and the fact is that the withdrawal of those safety precautions is one of the matters leading to the rapid decline in the output of the coal industry and the loss that the men, the industry and the country will suffer as a result.
I shall return later to the other matters raised by the right hon. Gentleman but now I shall deal with the Bill. Some pertinent and proper questions have been raised on the Bill and on long-range energy policy. The debate has ranged widely over the whole energy scene. It is 144 accepted throughout the House that there is need for the Bill both to meet the present situation and to enable quick action to be taken in future difficulties in this vexed field.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has emphasised—and as I emphasise again—we are faced with a serious situation involving not one energy but three simultaneously. We have taken effective action to meet the cumulative situation by use of emergency powers, but longer-term control is now needed.
Hon. Members have raised queries on our contingency plans for petrol rationing, and I will deal with these later. As my right hon. Friend has already said—I think I should repeat this so that there is no misunderstanding—we have taken no decision to ration petrol. We are issuing ration books so that the lead-time for rationing, if it is needed, will be very much reduced. Unless we did this, we should have to decide on rationing four weeks before its introduction, a situation which could only lead to the risk of a premature decision without the benefit of the evidence that those four weeks could provide. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will accept that that is a valid reason for making the issue now but not proceeding with rationing now. This is a sensible course, which I think the House supports.
The scheme that we have in mind is simple, flexible and effective. I should like to point out some things about it which has not arisen in the debate. Every car owner would get a basic allowance by the simplest possible procedures, and there would be an additional allowance for those who use their cars for business purposes and who could not manage on the basic allowance alone. The business allowance would be at a standard rate for most people. All vital or priority users—the ambulance and fire services and taxis—would get more again. The vital and priority categories would cover general medical practitioners, midwives, home nurses, social and welfare workers, probation officers, disabled employees and so on.
In addition to those allocations, there would be a flexible supplementary allowance scheme operated through the regional 145 petroleum offices set up by my Department. This possibility will be open to both private and business motorists.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Could the Minister give further information about the powers of the petroleum officer? Will he be able to show leniency towards applications which might fall a little outside the regulations?
§ Mr. Boardman
Perhaps I can make the general principles clearer as I go on. However, clearly, unless and until we know the terms upon which rations will be issued, most of this cannot be spelled out. What we must do now is get the coupons into people's hands, to keep the option open, so that if it is needed we shall not waste time or take action before it is needed.
Applications would be assessed individually, and all grounds for extra allocations would be taken into account—for instance, domestic hardship, the problems of those living in rural areas, which many hon. Members have mentioned, and essential business activities. Any delay in receiving supplementary allowances would be covered by the fact that applications would already have basic allowances and perhaps business allowances also. I do not believe that there are any cases which cannot be dealt with by this scheme.
Of course, rationing—or, rather, the supply situation which could lead to rationing—would cause inconvenience to everyone, and the extent of that inconvenience would depend on the level of supplies available. But if demand should have to be reduced below the level achieved by voluntary efforts—I repeat what my right hon. Friend has said about the importance of continuing, maximising and increasing the voluntary efforts to save fuel, which is one of the ways in which we hope to avoid rationing if supply does not rapidly improve—
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones
Will the Minister tell us more about his proposals to deal with rural areas? He has given a list of occupations which will have special consideration. Rural areas, in which 90 per cent. of the people live, are totally dependent on cars even for getting to work. So there is no question of a special category ; the whole of an area would be involved.
§ Mr. Boardman
We recognise, of course, that conditions are very different from those in 1956, since there is now far more dependence on private transport and there is not the public transport available in the rural areas that there was then. These factors will be taken into account.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) wondered whether this arrangement would not put an undue burden on the Post Office. We have consulted the Post Office and the Post Office unions to satisfy ourselves and them that this work can properly be carried out by them in the time scale that we have provided. My right hon. Friend referred to the problem which would arise if we postponed this decision and then for some reason found that we had to introduce rationing over the period of the Christmas rush.
The hon. Member for Gorbals asked about the relaxation of the road traffic regulations and its effect. The power is only permissive, and, obviously, normal consultations would take place before it was ever exercised.
There will be a massive advertising campaign to inform the public of the procedure to adopt for obtaining coupons. Inevitably, these preparations will involve the expenditure of a substantial amount of money. We shall be spending immediately £500,000 on publicity and information about the rationing scheme.
I turn now to some of the matters raised by hon. Gentlemen which will be significant to them in their understanding of the course to be taken. Some of them relate to the present method of allocation and do not extend to those events which might occur if rationing is introduced.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked about offences which might be committed by corporations and about the responsibility of officers of corporations. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to Section 12 of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and Repeals) Act, which provides in a fairly standard form that if an offence is committed with the consent or connivance or due to the neglect of any director, that officer can be guilty of it.
147 My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) drew attention to the need to continue exports and to the balance between exports and imports. My hon. Friend is quite right. We are dependent upon imports of certain products which we exchange for exports of other products. We have to ensure that we keep a realistic balance between those which we import and those which we export. These matters are being watched carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) asked about tourism and holiday makers. If rationing is introduced, obviously it will depend upon the degree of the severity of the cut how these priorities are allocated. Obviously, we must recognise the need of areas to maintain their livelihood from tourism and holiday makers. But we must also recognise that if the siutation should be acute—and I hope that it will not be—there are other activities which will have to have priorities. Obviously it would be wrong to anticipate how these might break up in certain events which I hope will not arise.
A number of questions were asked about shipping. As my right hon. Friend said, my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping is consulting the industry about ways in which the reduced allocation to it can be used in a way which will operate most fairly and with the minimum of disruption.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) asked about the North Sea supplies and whether I could give him the quantity which will be coming ashore in 1977. I cannot give that figure. However, I can confirm that on the latest estimates that we have, which I have reported to the House already, we expect that in 1980 we shall have a minimum of 70 million tons of oil coming ashore, and we hope that it may be as much as 100 million tons. I have no reason to believe that these estimates are over-optimistic, and I hope that when we have assessed the results of last season's drilling exploration we shall be able to provide the House with a fuller report.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) criticised the Government for not 148 providing the House with this sort of information. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I published reports to Parliament both at the beginning of the year and again in May which gave fairly detailed information on the exploration of the North Sea and its results. I intend to keep the House fully informed as the results of further information become available. I hope that that will be recognised by the hon. Gentleman as being a far more effective way of informing the House than that adopted in the previous year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and a number of other hon. Members asked me about agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford quoted a specific case, and I referred to it because it is one which is obviously disturbing, seeing that his constituents applied to the regional office and were told that they would get only 10 per cent. I am having this matter looked into. If people in this category are not getting supplies they should go to their suppliers and if their suppliers cannot meet their needs they should report to the Department's regional office. Under the system of allocation and sharing arrangements which we have agreed with the oil companies I hope that these difficulties will be overcome.
§ Questions were asked about oil stocks dropping from 70 days to 64 days. One cause is the impact which arises when motorists and others top up their tanks because of an anticipated shortage. If every motorist has lately been keeping his tank full rather than half full, which has been the average in the past, this will have caused a once-for-all increase in petrol sales of perhaps 65 million gallons. Daily consumption of petrol at this time of the year is about 13 million gallons. Therefore, 65 million gallons are equivalent to about 5 days' rundown in stocks. No doubt there has been a similar level of stockpiling of other products. The arrival of two or three large crude oil carriers, which can account for a quarter of a million tons of oil, in the middle or towards the end of a month can have a dramatic effect just as if they arrive immediately after the end of the month they can have an effect the other way.
§ We are concerned with short-term measures, which, if necessary, can be 149 used to deal with the present developing situation. But it is important that no one, either inside this House or outside, should lose sight of the longer-term perspective. I have already reminded the House of the reports that we have from time to time given on matters like North Sea oil. We have throughout endeavoured to keep the House informed in various debates and statements.
§ We must not only keep up our supplies of fuel today, but strive for reasonable certainty about the future, prices, and availability. The Government are aware of the need to preserve this perspective and have acted decisively to safeguard the country's interests.
§ Our energy demand has been growing steadily in recent years and it is expected to go on growing. This reflects the industrial expansion of the country and the rise in living standards. This situation is not peculiar to the United Kingdom. It reflects the general trend in world energy demand. We must accept and, indeed, hope that this growth will continue.
§ The satisfaction of this demand depends, in particular, on supplies of fossil fuels. As we know only too well, reserves of one of the most important of these—oil—are concentrated in the hands of relatively few countries. Our present pattern of consumption was established when these countries were willing to make supplies available cheaply and abundantly, but the position is changing. We must face the fact that future supplies will be far tighter and more expensive than we have been accustomed to. This is not the same as saying that the world's oil supplies will soon be running out. We are far from that plight. It is a question of the amount that producers will be willing to make available, and their terms.
§ The policy of successive Governments has been to meet the United Kingdom's needs with reasonable security at the lowest total costs over time. This is still our aim.
§ Mr. Palmer
I was not present at the earlier stages of the debate, but I do not think that this point has been covered. What guidance have Ministers given to the Government's directors of British Petroleum about their obligations to this 150 country regarding the supply of petroleum in the present emergency?
§ Mr. Boardman
It is not the custom for the Government to give advice to the directors on matters of management.
§ Mr. Boardman
The policy which I have stated has been repeated on many occasions in this House. It was spelt out in our debates on the Coal Industry Act.
We have slowed the rundown in the coal industry, and despite the fact that the hon. Member for Chesterfield does not like to hear the figures I remind the House that during the six years of the previous Government 249 pits were closed and the number of miners employed was reduced by 200,000, while during the last three years only 30 pits have been closed and the number employed has been reduced by 40,000.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
The Minister ought to accept that in the six years before 1964 almost as many pits were closed by the Conservative administration, and that, although fewer pits have been closed since 1970, the rate now seems to be accelerating.
§ Mr. Boardman
If the hon. Gentleman studies the percentage figures for pits closed and the rundown in manpower during the relevant periods he will find that my remarks are fully borne out.
Under the Coal Industry Act 1973, we provided—or the taxpayers did—£1,000 million to write off large deficits accumulated and to enable the industry to rebuild its future on a sound financial base. We gave the National Coal Board the means to make more generous arrangements for its pensioners and those who became redundant, and for a better and more secure future for those engaged in the industry.
At our request the National Coal Board has prepared a long-range plan to map out how both sides of industry, with the Government, can make the best use of our indigenous resources, provide 151 for better security of supply and the most efficient production. An essential part of such planning is the recruiting, training and retaining of skilled men who are needed to achieve the output that the nation needs. We decided that the drift from the mines must be stemmed, and that the morale of the miners, which had been so damaged over the years of rapid rundown, must be restored. The plans which the board is discussing with us take account of all those factors and look much further ahead than the current wage dispute, into the 'eighties and beyond.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Inasmuch as the Government are now consulting the National Coal Board about future long-term plans for the industry and are as anxious as the board is to retain the existing manpower and attract new people to the industry, if, as a consequence of these discussions, it is found that miners' wages have to be improved considerably to make their job more attractive, will the Government be as adamant as they are today in their view about what should be done?
§ Mr. Boardman
The offer being made by the board has to conform to the policy and code approved by Parliament for stage 3. It is part of the whole concept of the long-term plan to consider recruiting, training and retaining skilled manpower in an industry which we regard as vital and for which our plans look forward not to this year, during the period of phase 3 control or a year beyond, but right ahead to the 'eighties, the 'nineties and beyond.
The offer made to the miners under the stage 3 policy is generous by comparison with that available to men in other sectors of the community. It recognises special anomalies affecting the miners' pay structure, such as the lack, in most grades, of any adequate reward for working unsocial hours. I shall not dwell on those terms now. They should be well known, but hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to overlook most of them. I ask the House to contrast what the present Government have done and are doing for the industry under the 1973 Act and in their longer-term planning, and in the offer which the National Coal Board has been able to make, with the record of the previous Labour administration.
152 I turn to our other indigenous fuels. We have developed our reserves of natural gas faster than most other countries. About 90 per cent. of our supplies already come from the North Sea, and other finds will no doubt be made. Exploration in the Celtic Sea, only just starting, may yield more finds. We are determined to make the most of our North Sea oil. The House already knows that we could, perhaps, be meeting up to two-thirds of our oil consumption by 1980 in this way.
In the nuclear sphere we have set up the Nuclear Power Advisory Board to give us expert advice. I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to anticipate the thinking of the board or the advice it is likely to give, or to comment on the relevant merits of the alternative situation. We have encouraged the consolidation of nuclear design and construction in industry to meet the heavy needs of the future through the formation of the National Nuclear Corporation. We shall be taking vital decisions concerning reactor choice in the next few months. This, I hope, gives the House some insight into the wide spread of our energy policy. It is not something new.
The point I stress is that our indigenous resources give us good grounds for hope in the future—better grounds than most other industrial countries have. The Government are determined to make the best of them. In the short term we shall inevitably encounter difficulties, like other countries. This Bill is needed to overcome them.
I said that I would return to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bristol South-East. I was somewhat shocked to read his speech, delivered on Friday at Wells, the tone of which was repeated today. He said :Mr. Heath is attacking fundamental democratic freedoms which are not only expressed in Parliamentary forms but are enshrined in trade union democracy.I ask those who read that and those who saw Mr. Daly on television or read what he said in The Guardian today to contrast the two statements. Mr. Daly said :We can break the policy of phase 3 and get the withdrawal of this legislation altogether.Can anyone have any doubt about who truly expresses and who truly threatens our democratic principles? I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the speech made by his hon. Friend the Member for 153 Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) on 15th November. She said :Again, my right hon. and learned Friends and myself do not condone any attempt to break a Government by industrial action, by employers' action or by financial action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Commons, 15th November 1973 ; Vol. 864, c. 699.]I ask : does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that? [HON. MEMBERS : "Answer."] Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what his hon. Friend said?
§ Mr. Boardman
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that he should condone trade unionists or others who seek to break a Government by industrial action?
§ Mr. Boardman
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with Mr. Lawrence Daly when he says :We can break the policy of phase 3 and get the withdrawal of this legislation altogether."?Is that a line of which he approves?
§ Mr. Benn
As the Minister knows, in the legislation which he promoted he has the power under the Counter-Inflation Act to pay any sum he chooses to any group of workers. It does not involve a change in legislation.
§ Mr. Boardman
The right hon. Gentleman has avoided the answer. He no doubt reads The Guardian closely I would draw his attention to the condemnation 154 in that paper of that attitude. I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who talked at Wells the other day of people struggling to maintain living standards, of the offer made to the miners and the paltry wages they earned under the administration of which he was a member. I remind him of what his hon. Friend said on 15th November about a Government maintaining the law.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Rossi.]
§ Committee tomorrow.