HC Deb 19 March 1979 vol 964 cc1077-9
4. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he proposes next to meet with the EEC Council of Energy Ministers.

18. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends next to meet his EEC colleagues.

Mr. Benn

I expect to meet other EEC Energy Ministers at the next meeting of the Energy Council on 27 March.

Mr. Renton

Following the Secretary of State's reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) just now, is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself has been the largest single stumbling block to the emergence of a credible EEC energy policy—

Mr. Woodall


Mr. Renton

—which could mean large subsidies for our power station coal? How can such a policy emerge when the Secretary of State himself is, in his own Minister of State's words,"a most dedicated anti-Marketeer? "

Mr. Benn

The hon. Member's question confirms what the Government know, namely, that the Opposition's policy is one of total capitulation to the demands of the Commission. We are overwhelmingly the largest energy producer in Europe. The fact is that 51 per cent. of all the oil investment in the EEC, 33 per cent. of all the coal investment and 27 per cent. of all energy investment is British. We have co-operated in the Euratom loans and in the coking coal schemes in every possible way. That is different from transferring the control of our own energy from the House of Commons to the Commission. I am absolutely opposed to that, and on this matter I have enjoyed support from many members from the Conservative Party as well as from my own colleagues.

Mr. Adley

Did the right hon. Gentleman notice that last Thursday, in the Standing Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill, Back Benchers on both sides of the Committee voted by 10 to two to make the owner of the oil, rather than the carriers, responsible for pollution? As this could have implications for the right hon. Gentleman's Department, will he discuss the matter with his EEC colleagues and try to report back to the House on the implications before the Report stage of the Merchant Shipping Bill?

Mr. Benn

My Department followed the exchanges in that Committee on 15 February. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade is now investigating the point made in that Committee and will be informing the hon. Gentleman, who has raised a matter of considerable substance.

Mr. Stoddart

When my right hon. Friend meets his EEC colleagues, will he tell them in no uncertain terms that, although the Conservative Party is prepared to subvert the best interests of this country to foreign-dominated bodies, the Labour Party is not? Will he also tell them that we in the Labour Party intend to keep control of all our energy sources, including North Sea oil and uranium, and that in due course we shall make arrangements on uranium with Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, no matter what the EEC says?

Mr. Benn

Our position in the Energy Council is not seen by our ministerial colleagues as a destructive one. It is only the Conservative Party whose members continually urge us to hand over to the Commission control of our oil, of our atomic policy and of our refineries. In arguing our case there we find that there is support from other colleagues, notably the French Government, who have no more intention than we have of seeing the control of nuclear policy transferred from member States to the Commission. We have no intention whatever of transferring responsibility for oil policy and control of the continental shelf from the British Parliament to the Commission in Brussels.

Mr. Emery

Will the Secretary of State leave aside some of the party bickering that he is trying to further and when he next meets his ministerial colleagues turn his mind to the problem of the Bantry Bay explosion, with the difficulties that that kind of event could cause to British and European ports? Will Her Majesty's Government urge the Europeans to join us in ensuring that all oil delivered by tanker is delivered only by tankers with an inert gas re-injection system, so that such explosion can be minimised? That would be a major step forward for this Government, irrespective of politics, and would benefit the whole of Europe.

Mr. Benn

The case cited by the hon. Gentleman does not fall within my responsibility, because it relates to pollution at sea, but it is a perfect example of the harmonisation and co-operation which is possible and which the British Government are encouraging in every way with the EEC.

However, the point on which I was being challenged was different, namely whether it follows that if there is common interest in a subject the power of decision should be transferred to the Commission. That was the only point with which I was dealing. Harmonisation, co-operation and joint research are going ahead with our full support, and I shall see that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is raised with my colleagues who have responsibility in these spheres.