HL Deb 10 February 1965 vol 263 cc125-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to make a statement as to when we shall get a co-ordinated fuel and power policy.]


My Lords, as I made clear in answering the Motion on the Electricity, Gas and Atomic Energy Industries on December 8 last year, the Government regard a co-ordinated fuel policy as essential. Such a policy must embrace all sources of fuel and power and must be based on a thorough assessment of all the facts. My right honourable friend the Minister of Power has instituted a review to this end. When it is completed Parliament will of course be informed, and I can only ask my noble friend to wait until it is possible for a comprehensive statement to be made.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that we are quite pleased about the Energy Advisory Council which the Government have set up? It is only an advisory body and a Minister finally makes the decision in relation to future energy policy. Is he further aware that we pledged, in our own energy policy, that a minimum of 200 million tons of coal would be used in the country? Can we be assured that that policy will still continue?


My Lords, I think my right honourable friend the Minister of Power made the position perfectly clear when he said yesterday in another place that the Government accept for the present the case for trying to maintain the position of coal at around its recent level of 190 million to 200 million tons, and are studying methods of assisting the industry's efforts accordingly.

My I remind my noble friend that in 1963 the output and sales of coal were some 200 million tons, and last year were 193 million tons, when, again broadly speaking, sales matched output? May I also remind him that the size of the market in any one year depends on many factors, including the level of industrial activity, exports, and some unpredictable factors? Also the demand for energy is increasing.

With regard to my noble friend's mention of the Energy Advisory Council, I would remind him that our noble friend Lord Robens of Woldingham, Chairman of the National Coal Board, and the President of the National Union of Mine-workers, are both members of the Council, and can, I think, be relied upon to state the position of coal with energy, precision and full knowledge.


My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the important matters that deserve attention is the importance for our industry of obtaining energy at a reasonable price?


My Lords, of course I agree. This is one of the bases of the Government's search for a coordinated fuel policy which, I may say, allowing for economic factors, social factors, defence and security factors, insists that each form of energy should be doing the job it is best fitted to do.


My Lords, do I understand from this that we shall be hearing nothing further about the future of Dounreay or of hydro-electricity in Scotland until the promised statement on the whole fuel and power outlook is available?


No, my Lords, I should not think so, and I would suggest that if the noble Duke wants earlier information he might favour me with a Question on the subject.


My Lords, will it be possible to produce any statement about a co-ordinated fuel and power policy until it is discovered what success searches for oil and natural gas have had under the North Sea?


My Lords, I can only tell the noble Lord that my right honourable friend is anxious to produce a co-ordinated fuel policy as soon as he can, having regard to all the factors which must be taken into consideration.


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that a pledge was given, as was suggested by the noble Lord who asked this Question, by the Party opposite to keep the output at 200 million tons a year?


My Lords, I cannot recall any pledge having been given in the precise terms as I heard them stated just now. The pledge which was given was one which was again repeated by the Minister of Power in another place yesterday, and his answer indicates that the pledge, like all the pledges given by this Government, is being carried out.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is terrific pressure to try to put this industry back to 160 million or 175 million tons? And is he further aware that this would mean the closure of 100 collieries, and that 100,000 men would be displaced, after the manpower has been reduced by 250,000 in the last five years? Can he say whether the Government are going to subscribe to that policy or to carry out the pledge which was given?


My Lords, I have seen the reports to which my noble friend refers, but I think they were effectively dealt with by my right honourable friend in another place yesterday, when he said, in a Written Answer: I hope this statement of the Government's intentions towards the coal industry will dispose of recent alarmist reports in the Press about the prospects of employment in the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 706 (No. 53), col. 52, February 9, 1965.] My right honourable friend was referring to exactly the type of statement to which my noble friend has just referred, and the Government do indeed repudiate them.