HC Deb 14 January 1980 vol 976 cc1182-4
4. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when next he expects to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

Mr. David Howell

I next expect to meet other EEC Energy Ministers at the Energy Council meeting planned for 19 February.

Mr. Knox

Does my right hon. Friend think that any progress will be made towards the development of a Community energy policy at this meeting? Does he agree that a common energy policy, organised on the same lines as the common agricultural policy, would be beneficial to this country?

Mr. Howell

I am not sure that I would agree unreservedly with the last remark made by my hon. Friend. At these meetings we continue to work for a basis for a common energy policy where it is beneficial to the member States concerned. There are undoubtedly grave difficulties and I have never sought to disguise that fact.

Mr. Foulkes

When the Minister meets his counterparts in the EEC, what will his reaction be, on behalf of the Government, to the proposals by the Commission for a second five-year programme dealing with nuclear waste management?

Mr. Howell

The question of nuclear policy is a matter for the United Kingdom Government, but we obviously examine proposals from the Commission to see whether they will bear fruit and are useful from our point of view.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Before my right hon. Friend meets his colleagues in Europe, will he discuss with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the prevailing situation whereby horticulture in Holland receives its gas supplies at a much lower price than the horticulture industry in Britain, thus effectively subsidising competition? Following those discussions, will he take the matter up with his Dutch counterpart to try to achieve the same price for gas for both industries?

Mr. Howell

I am always glad to have discussions, both with my opposite numbers in member countries and, indeed, with my colleagues in the Government. On the question of subsidies and the price of different supplies of gas throughout the Community, comparisons are difficult. However, I shall certainly look into this matter if my hon. Friend is suggesting that there is unfair competition here.

Dr. Owen

As every Community country that has a coking coal industry subsidises it—in the case of the German Federal Republic, to the tune of £297 million for 1978—will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the House that he will now make an application for a grant to save our coking coal industry from heavy redundancies and pit closures? This would cost only £20 million in the coming year which would meet the gap, and thus avoid BSC having to import coal.

Mr. Howell

I am aware of the deep concern about coking coal, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat confused. There is no honey pot, as it were, within the EEC from which we can draw grants for coking coal. There are provisions that within member countries subsidies can be provided for different forms of coal production and the coal industry. In this country we make our decisions about the kind of subsidies that we provide and we also have to assess whether we have the finance available to pay for that. There is no central provision within the EEC from which we can draw sums to help ourselves.

Dr. Owen

Is the right hon. Gentleman still standing firm in his refusal to use Government money for the coking coal industry? It is only in the absence of any assurance that he will consider this issue that we have to look to the EEC, because it is the policy of the EEC that European countries should be self-sufficient in energy and that there should not be a reduction in the coal capacity of the Community.

Mr. Howell

We have made it clear to the National Coal Board that, within the very large sums to be made available to it from the taxpayer this year for the support of the coal industry and its development, it is free to divert sums for assisting the coking coal industry. That has been made quite clear to the NCB. It is free to move in that direction if it so wishes. That is well within the rules of the EEC.