HC Deb 15 November 1982 vol 32 cc11-3
11. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if it is intended to publish the results of studies being undertaken by his Department of the relative cost-effectiveness of investment in energy conservation and energy supply; and, if so, when publication may be expected.

Mr. Mellor

My Department is preparing a paper on this topic, which will be published as soon as possible.

Mr. Stoddart

I welcome the Minister's statement. Is he aware that a good deal of material has been prepared by experts? Will he ensure that all elements and views are taken into account in the study?

Mr. Mellor

The document will be as thoroughly prepared as other documents that emanate from my Department.

Mr. Forman

Are not the studies likely to show that investment in energy conservation is still a better economic bet than in energy supply, particularly in modern conditions? Should not that policy be pursued with great vigour as the real price of energy is not now rising so quickly?

Mr. Mellor

Not necessarily. It is a complicated issue. My hon. Friend has to generalise to phrase his question. I urge the House not to be too critical of investment in supply. Last year more than £5 billion was spent on energy supply, much of it in the North Sea or in coal mines. I doubt whether many hon. Members on either side of the House would deplore that. Countless thousands of British jobs are secured by the investment.

Mr. Palmer

Can the Minister say how many civil servants in the Department deal with supply and how many with demand?

Mr. Mellor

Not without notice. The hon. Gentleman knows that to say that they are occupied on the supply side does not mean that they are dealing with the construction of power stations, for example. He also knows that only two new power stations have been ordered since the Government have been in office. They must deal with the complicated relationship between the Government and the nationalised industries. There is a disproportion as a result. The hon. Gentleman also knows that we have a highly effective energy conservation division that is showing results for its many labours.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend agree that he could raise the level of the publication above the normal standards of his Department by getting it to consider the cost-effectiveness and conservation impact of switching from standing charges to marginal price increases? Does he agree that that is the Government's normal approach to all these matters?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is trying to have two bites at the cherry. I have nothing to add to what I said earlier.

Mr. Eadie

Will Ministers be less touchy in the answers that they give? I am wondering whether an election is going on. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter is serious and that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about it? The main thrust of the Government's energy conservation policy is exhortation—I do not quarrel with that—but is the Minister aware that more investment in energy conservation would be in the best interests of the whole nation? Will he give due weight to the important points that my hon. Friends have made?

Mr. Mellor

My Department has a view on the matter, and I am trying to express it. We estimate that about £600 million—a large sum of money—was spent on domestic conservation measures last year. It is difficult to quantify, because it is bound up with the cost of replacing machines for industry and other costs. There is no shortage of investment in energy conservation promoted by my Department in either the industrial or domestic sector.

The hon. Gentleman must know that it is not simply a matter of balancing supply against conservation. He must realise that the implications of taking a different view of investment in energy supply would be damaging to jobs and British industry. It is no use Opposition Members encouraging the Government to reflate the economy and to create jobs when they knock us about one of the major sectors in which capital is being invested.

12. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to respond to the Select Committee on Energy's report on energy conservation.

Mr. Mellor

Before Christmas.

Mr. Rost

As it has again become respectable for Conservatives to talk about renewed capital investment in the public sector following the lead of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment, will the Government urgently consider the Select Committee's report, especially the recommendation that we should increase the allocation of funds for insulating public buildings? Does my hon. Friend agree that would be highly cost-effective, would reduce public expenditure—because it reduces running costs—and would stimulate employment far more quickly than putting up many new buildings?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the Select Committee's report raised several fundamental issues. That is why we are taking slightly longer than usual to consider a full response to it.

Mr. Stoddart

In the light of an earlier answer, may I ask whether the Minister is aware of the tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of jobs that can be provided through conservation and the introduction of combined heat and power? Is he further aware that that is why many hon. Members, including some of his right hon. and hon. Friends, believe that the Government should place more emphasis on conservation? Will they now do so?

Mr. Mellor

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman embraces CHP. He will know that the forthcoming Energy Bill promotes industrial CHP. I shall welcome him into the Lobby's to vote with us.