HC Deb 17 January 1974 vol 867 cc914-6

4. Mr. Judd asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry on research into new sources of energy for defence requirements.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but this is now primarily a matter for co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Energy.

Mr. Judd

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the long-term world energy crisis poses a serious threat to world stability? In view of the vast public investment on research facilities in the Ministry of Defence, would it not make sense in the present situation to use those facilities in a crash programme of research into alternative sources of energy and into less energy-intensive means of production?

The Prime Minister

It is not only a question of defence affairs. It is a question of the whole country having to consider the development of its energy in the most economic form. When the hon. Gentleman tabled this Question I considered the matter very carefully. This matter was considered some years ago. I considered carefully whether there were aspects of energy which were particular and peculiar to defence and on which there ought to be a special programme. I have come to the conclusion that we ought not to separate this from the general work being carried out in an endeavour to find the most economical use of our own resources and energy.

Mr. Wilkinson

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is even more important in the short term to our foreign and trading policies to make sure of the vital supplies of fuel and other commodities which the Armed Forces so badly need?

The Prime Minister

Of course that is the case. What is also the case today is that we must find the most economical resources from the point of view of pricing and that we should develop those resources which put least burden on our balance of payments.

Q5. Mr. Dalyell asked the Prime Minister if he will discuss at his next meeting with President Nixon Dr. Kissinger's plan for a world energy plan.

The Prime Minister

The Government are accepting President Nixon's invitation to attend the conference opening in Washington on 11th February. I have no definite plans for a meeting with President Nixon at present.

Mr. Dalyell

Does not the Prime Minister despair, along with many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, at the spectacle of individual nations in Western Europe and the Americans running in a rat-race to Riyadh for the purpose of selling sophisticated armaments without consulting our European partners? Does this fit in with the right hon. Gentleman's concept of what Europe is about? Is there not great urgency for something like the Kissinger plan?

The Prime Minister

We accepted the Kissinger plan directly it was proposed and said that it was a good thing to have a meeting of this kind of the consumer countries. Our view is that it is a prelude to a meeting between consumer and producer countries. This matter was discussed at the Copenhagen Heads of Government summit where it was agreed to establish Community machinery for dealing with precisely these problems. As for bilateral arrangements, for many years there have been bilateral arrangements between particular countries, sometimes direct and sometimes between a Government and a company. What we are doing, and have been doing for a long time, is to have arrangements which will secure as much as possible of our oil supplies. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is justified, as far as we are concerned, in his accusation that this is a question of arms.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Would the Prime Minister accept, in the context of the energy crisis, that the attempt by the oil companies to raise the price of petrol by 6p a gallon should be repelled by the Price Board? Is he aware that the increase attributable to the Arabs amounts to 7p and that since the crisis began, including this extra 6p, the oil companies will have demanded 12p, which would make the Arabs look like philanthropists?

The Prime Minister

This is a matter on which the company will have to produce its costings which can be examined by the Price Board.