HC Deb 09 January 1978 vol 941 cc1256-7
23. Mr. Ronald Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he estimates that the world supply of oil will fail to meet demand; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Benn

Various forecasts have been made of the future balance of oil supply and demand. These depend on so many factors that I cannot give any meaningful estimate. As I made clear at the IEA Ministerial Council, Her Majesty's Government would welcome a United Nations rôle in world energy forecasting and policy discussions.

Mr. Atkins

Has my right hon. Friend forecast the effect on price of excess demand and the consequent effect on consumer industries, such as transport, and energy-producing industries, including possible new ones such as the Severn barrage scheme?

Mr. Benn

What I have done—this is a different question, but I do not complain about that—is to publish our own forecasts going up to the end of the century, and I have made available our forecasts, very preliminary in character, going up to the year 2025, to give an idea of what might happen. But these forecasts are subject to great uncertainty. It is expected that the price of energy may double in real terms by the end of the century. The relative prices of coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy could all be subject to great variations. The more we look at them, the wiser it becomes to take these matters on an annual basis for discussion, to publish a Green Paper for the Energy Commission, and then try to reach the best decision annually, so far as that can be done.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the demand for oil will far exceed the supply in the next two decades? Therefore, what consideration is he giving to the by-products of coal? Should we not be thinking about building more chemical plants and especially about rebuilding the Manvers Main chemical plant, which it is rumoured will close down?

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is the Chairman of the Research and Development Committee, which will be publishing a report shortly and which has looked into all the matters connected with the by-products of coal. We also invited the House to pass the Coal Industry Act, which it did. That Act gave the National Coal Board the power to move into refinery and other operations. There is a great deal of scope for further development in the marketing and use of coal other than by burning it. If we can make progress in that direction, it will be highly advantageous

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