HC Deb 23 February 1981 vol 999 cc640-1
6. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what consultations he has had during the last month with leaders of British industry on energy pricing policy.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Norman Lamont)

At the NEDC in January it was agreed that a task force should be set up to report on energy prices to bulk users. This task force, on which both the CBI and my Department are represented, is therefore the main forum for discussion with industry at present. I will, of course, be discussing its findings at the NEDC meeting on 4 March.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Has the Under-Secretary noted the comments of Courtaulds, which has maintained in every closure announcement that it has made over the last 12 months that the reasons for closure have been the high cost of energy and the high cost of feedstock? Will the hon. Gentleman intervene and set up an investigation into the relationship between textile closures and high energy costs and high feedstock costs? Will he say whether he intends to accept any recommendation that the task force may make on prices?

Mr. Lamont

I have noticed the statements by Courtaulds, just as I have noticed those of a number of firms in the industrial sector. The Government are waiting for the conclusions of the NEDC task force, which will be available on about 4 March. They will then formulate their response. The hon. Gentleman referred to feedstock. I should point out that some companies in this country have very cheap feedstock which has been the cause of comment and complaint from some producers abroad.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend accept that the most effective, immediate way of helping large energy-consuming industries would be a reduction in the rate of duty on heavy oil?

Mr. Lamont

That is a matter for my right hon. and hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that he will note what my hon. Friend says. Many people have made representations to that effect.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister accept that almost six months have lapsed since the steel industry in South Yorkshire, both the private and public sectors, presented the facts about the very difficult position faced by that industry as a result of energy prices being higher than those of its competitors in France and Germany? Does he realise that the task force is duplicating the work that was carried out by the industry? When can we expect a helpful response?

Mr. Lamont

The hon. Gentleman is not right. Many matters have to be clarified. The hon. Gentleman referred to the case made by the steel industry. One point that emerged from the evidence of the steel industry on energy prices was that the utilities in this country had, over two years, put up their prices by rather less than the Continental countries had done. When the exchange rate factor was taken into account, a different picture emerged. It is not so simple as the hon. Gentleman says. We recognise that industry has problems when there are bulk buyers. We have asked the utilities to prepare proposals, to which the Government have referred on previous occasions.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is it not somewhat hypocritical for the Labour Party to complain about energy prices when its leader treats a decision to maximise the less economic forms of coal production as a victory? Will my hon. Friend enlighten the House—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman is not helping the Minister.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I do not always intend to. Will my hon. Friend enlighten the House on whether concessions from the National Coal Board on pricing to enable its two biggest customers to meet the price of imported coal will be extended to substantial users of imported coal in the private sector.

Mr. Lamont

The answer to the latter point is "No". We are discussing the position of two nationalised corporations. There is no question of the general position being altered. On my hon. Friend's first point, I note what he says, including his remark that he does not always want to be helpful.