HC Deb 23 June 1980 vol 987 cc4-6
2. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a further statement on progress towards encouraging energy conservation, with particular reference to petrol consumption during the last 12 months.

Mr. John Moore

The downward trend in total energy consumption is continuing, the reduction in oil consumption being particularly marked. Against the general trend, demand for petrol has increased, but there are signs that the rate of increase may be falling.

Mr. Chapman

Is my hon. Friend surprised and disappointed that there has been an increase in petrol consumption in the past year? He mentioned signs of a reversal of that trend. Can he amplify that?

Mr. Moore

I am disappointed, obviously, because one would like to see progress more quickly made, but we are in an area where short-term demand is relatively inelastic. Obviously, people cannot change their cars as soon as prices change. It is important to draw attention to provisional figures which will be published in this week's "Energy Trends", which show that, although petroleum consumption was down 15 per cent. in the first quarter, motor spirit consumption was up 6.8 per cent. However, the latter is declining so rapidly that in April it was down to 0.2 per cent. In the period from February to April inclusive it rose by only 2.9 per cent. Therefore, there are signs of improvement—although I have stressed on each occasion that this question has been answered that we should be looking at long-term patterns, not short-term ones.

Mr. Ashton

Since the Minister now admits that there is no significant improvement in keeping down petrol consumption, will he do something to help the motorist? Is he aware that since this Government came to power, petrol prices have risen by 54 per cent. and BP profits by 87 per cent? When will he take some action to stop the profits of these oil companies, which, every time the pound goes up against the dollar, make even more cash out of the motorist?

Mr. Moore

Facts are always difficult for people to listen to, so, for the sake of the hon. Member, I will repeat that in April the decline in petrol consumption was 0.2 per cent. and that for that quarter one can see an improvement. I would also remind the hon. Gentleman of the comparison with the quarter January-March 1979—the worst winter in 20 years, when the tanker drivers' dispute took place. Success is being attained in this area and the position will not be improved by destroying profits, which are the basis of all long-term success.

Mr. Rost

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the progress in harnessing the vast amounts of heat wasted from power stations? Could that harnessing for district heating not make a bigger contribution to energy conservation than any other process?

Mr. Moore

I am never satisfied, but I am conscious, as I said in a recent answer to my hon. Friend, that this is an important area where the Government have committed themselves to the next stage. Obviously, this is an area of great concern. We are not satisfied, not complacent, but pushing ahead with the programme that we announced.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister make it clear that he does not approve of conservation by price, especially not if it involves the sort of profiteering that one can see on the M1 and other motorways? Does he believe that a price of £1.52 per gallon, even though sold by the litre, is attractive, desirable or commendable?

Mr. Moore

The view that one takes that price, long term, will be the key factor behind long-term energy conservation does not mean that one can or should make subjective judgments about individual garages in areas where they may or may not—I do not know—be charging the market price for their product.

Mr. Forman

Although realistic pricing policy is at the heart of this Government's conservation approach, is there not a case, in regard to petrol, for the introduction of mandatory miles-per-gallon standards as is done in the United States?

Mr. Moore

I am always loth to approach what I would call mandatory areas, as I believe in a society where people should make long-term decisions on their own. All information that can be presented to the motorist to help him with long-term conservation will be beneficial. We have recently published a checklist "Making the Most of Your Petrol", prepared with the help of the AA and the RAC, which will help in that regard, as well as additional information through the official fuel consumption tests for cars at the point of retail sale. Those will be a help.