HC Deb 21 February 1977 vol 926 cc1015-7
7. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he intends to include only one environmentalist representative on the proposed Energy Commission.

9. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his proposals to establish an energy council.

23. Mr. Penhaligon

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what consumer representation he intends to include on the Energy Commission.

Mr. Benn

No decisions have yet been taken about the composition and functions of the proposed Energy Commission and no groups or individuals have yet been invited to become members. I would ask the hon. Members to await the statement whicht I hope to make in due course.

Mr. Ross

May we express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will include more than one environmentalist on the Commission, and that he will consult the Committee for Environmental Conservation on the appointments, if there are more than one, to represent a wide range of conservation bodies in this country?

Mr. Benn

There are many people with a legitimate interest in the work of the Commission. If it were too big, it might not be effective. I hope that the point that the hon. Gentleman and others have in mind in pressing particular candidates may be met by making the documents for the Commission more open to the public, so that representations can be made by those who cannot themselves be members.

Mr. Rost

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that his energy forum will not be just a talking shop, with trade union leaders over-represented, but will become a genuine energy forum for the proposal of energy strategy and advice to the Government?

Mr. Benn

It is intended that it should be a body of people of whom the overwhelming majority have a direct rôle in the industry, on the management and trade union sides. I think that the Government must inevitably retain the control of investment, which is the key question in energy. Therefore, it cannot be an executive body. My intention is that it should bring together those on the side of management and the unions who are most directly concerned with the industries involved.

Mr. Skinner

When my right hon. Friend gets round to making the appointments—on a patronage basis, of course—will he bear in mind that there is strong opposition from a fellow by the name of the Duke of Rutland, who is, with others, opposing the extraction of coal in the Vale of Belvoir? Is he aware that until quite recently this man was Chairman of the East Midlands Economic Planning Council and that it was his aim, so we are told, to try to attract jobs into the East Midlands? As soon as there is an opportunity of finding some employment on his land, he is trying to stop it.

Mr. Benn

I think the House knows very well that about 500 million tons of coal are thought to lie in the Vale of Belvoir. I cannot give the exact value, but it will be far more than £500 million. The nation's interest in seeing that coal reserves of that kind are fully developed is very well known, but that will be subject to whatever planning procedures my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment wishes. I am not responsible for the Duke of Rutland.

Mr. Tom King

Can the Secretary or State confirm whether—if it is finally intended to include a representative from the oil industry involved in the North Sea, which one would have thought extremely important—it is a requirement of the Government that a further union representative should be added to the Commission? Is the right hon. Gentleman turning this into his private form of Bullock, or is it intended genuinely as an Energy Commission to consider energy strategy for the nation?

Mr. Benn

The question of representation of the oil interest is one that has very much occupied my mind. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the interest of labour in energy is a product of my preference rather than that the fact that the miners dig the coal and other people work in the industries concerned entitles them to be represented—[Interruption.] It is not an executive body; it is a strategy body. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, on the NEDC, the composition of which has become non-controversial between the parties, the representation of capital and labour on an equal basis has long been accepted. It would be ludicrous to try to plan the strategy for energy without the proper representation of labour.