§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, may I have the leave of the House to make a Personal Statement? I have been told that in the course of the political argument in my speech just now I inadvertently used a phrase which gave personal offence and distress to Members of your Lordships' House. I did not know that it would; I did not mean it to, and I ask your Lordships to accept my apology for having used that phrase.
§ LORD ZUCKERMAN
My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, 641 Lord Kennet, for having introduced this very important subject for debate. I myself prefer to refer to our topic not as a "crisis", but as the present situation with regard to our energy supplies. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, what is now a crisis is in fact our abrupt acceleration into a position where all can now read what has long been written on the wall. It is years since people wrote that one day we would need to consider whether the use of oil should be restricted to prime movers, or treated as a chemical raw material, as opposed to a convenient form of space heating or as fuel for generating stations. That was long before the recent war in the Middle East. I myself was guilty of such writing in the mid-'fifties.
I draw several lessons from the present situation. First, nothing will ever be the same as before, whatever happens in the resolution of our immediate difficulties. We cannot rest assured that they will not recur. Whatever happens now, therefore, we have to diversify our energy supplies. That, I think, is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, was making. The war accelerated our present situation; it did not create it. Regardless of what oil reserves there are—and there has been discussion on this point—until the world is one, we in this country dare not allow irregularity in the distribution of raw materials in the earth's crust to determine the progress and spread of Western civilisation.
Coal powered the Industrial Revolution and the growth of industry in all countries well into this century. In the latter part of our own century we turned from coal to the more convenient fuel represented by crude oil; and the United States of course, as we know full well, to the use of natural gas—natural gas provided so cheaply that it distorted the cost pattern of many products. At about the same time, we started to exploit hydroelectric power; I wish there were more available in this country so as to satisfy the noble Lord who mentioned this subject. More recently we have rested major hopes on the promise of nuclear energy.
We ran down our coal mines, but coal mining now needs to be encouraged. That, as I understand it, is why the Government introduced the 1973 Coal Industry Act, which keeps open the option of 642 a large industry for the future. We were over-optimistic in our estimates of both the potential speed at which nuclear power stations can be brought into operation and the cost of nuclear power. To-day we are cautious—perhaps over-cautious. No significant allowance was made for North Sea gas—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, who knows a great deal about this subject is to speak later—in the calculations which led up to the 1967 White Paper on Fuel Policy, and which at the time appeared to provide a sound basis for the policies we were then following but which, as has turned out, and because of over-optimism about the nuclear component, expedited the rundown of coal. If anything is to be learnt from the present situation it is that we need to be flexible in our policies for the future. And that, too, was Lord Polwarth's point.
The second lesson that I would draw is that however difficult it is not to abide by conventional discounted cash-flow sums, we cannot approach the problem of investment in energy, and equally in the environment, by accountancy principles which relate to to-day's costs and values. This has also been shown to be true, as we know, of the nation's water resources, land resources, and even of its resources of clean air. We dare not live just for the day, and expect at the same time to deal with matters which affect the conditions of life to-morrow. My third lesson would be that we have paid far too little attention in the past to conservation and the waste of energy—two matters which have not so far been sufficiently emphasised to-day. My fourth point is that, whatever we do in overcoming our immediate problems and in preparing for the decade ahead, we must have the factor of safety in mind, but safety assessed rationally and not in an atmosphere of hysteria.
My Lords, let me now amplify what I have said about my four lessons. In this country we have little opportunity for diversifying our sources of energy. We have been blessed by the discovery of natural gas and oil in the bed of the North Sea, and if all goes well we can be self-sufficient in our demands for these commodities by the mid-1980s. I am one of those who live in that hope. But, in the light of our present difficulties the 'eighties are far away. None the less, 643 we have to push on now with further exploration, not only in the North Sea, but as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said, in the Irish Sea as well; and, what is more, on our own land mass, in spite of the objections people have raised to the simple process of exploration, a process which causes practically no environmental disturbance at all. I shall not refer to coal; others who are going to speak in this debate are much better qualified than I am to do so. But I must refer, however inexpert my knowledge, to the question of the rational growth of nuclear power, about which there has been so much discussion in recent months, and to which reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his opening speech, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is a matter about which we understand that the Government are due to make an announcement in the early part of the new year.
Certain figures need to be borne in mind. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with statistics, but let me remind you of the amount of power that the Central Electricity Generating Board commands now. The output capacity of our generating stations at the present moment is about 65,000 megawatts, and the simultaneous maximum load which is met, and maximum potential demand, is 46.000 megawatts. About 20 per cent. of the system is oil-fired. Since stations have to be taken out of service periodically, the C.E.G.B. holds that a plant margin of 20 per cent. is necessary over the whole system. I understand that at the present moment the figure is somewhat higher than 20 per cent., and I also know that there are those who argue that the C.E.G.B. could make do with a lower margin. Whatever the figure is, it is going to determine our investment policy in generating stations. At the present moment, new generating plant equivalent to a further 12,500 megawatts is under construction to make allowances for the growth in demand. It is, however, well known that the estimates made by the C.E.G.B. at the end of the 1960s for future demand were on the generous side, and we also now know that the demand for electric power does not run in parallel with the growth of the G.N.P.
I mention these figures because they determine the urgency with which we 644 have to decide about the new nuclear power plants that should be planned to meet our estimates of what will be required. A refinement in forecasting methods is under way. I hope that it is successful. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, that we cannot legislate for Middle East wars, nor can we legislate for industrial unrest. We can regret these things, but they happen. And they show just how frail technological forecasting can be. Until we are satisfied with our estimates of future demand, it is going to be very difficult to challenge the view (and some vast figures have been quoted), that by the year 2000 100,000 megawatts of new plant will be required in this country. We cannot argue about such estimates, simply because we cannot make statements which depend on the unknown variables that may come into future sums, and sometimes make our present sums not worth the paper on which they are written.
I also understand—and I appreciate this fully—that we cannot wait, and that the issue now is that of giving the go-ahead to a definite number of new nuclear plants as soon as possible—recognising that it will take 10 years before any one of them becomes operational. Noble Lords have already referred to different varieties of nuclear reactor. I have followed the debate closely so far and have read a great deal about the subject, but I must immediately admit my total incompetence to discuss the technicalities of this matter. I do not know, for example, what reactor we should go for. I do not know whether it should be the steam generating heavy water reactor (reference has been made to that) or the high temperature gas-cooled reactor, or some other reactor, or the American light water reactor, to which reference has also been made. And may I correct a remark which was made about what President Nixon is reported to have said about an L.W.R. near his provincial White House? He did not say how good it was; he said how safe it was. If, in fact, he said it at a moment when it was shut down, then it must have been very safe.
There are Members of your Lordships' House who are unable to be here to-day and whom I do not see on the Benches on either side, but who are really competent to talk about this question, to tell 645 us what is likely to be the best reactor from the technical point of view. What I know—and I know this from many years of discussion of this subject—is that we cannot push technology too hard and too fast in this field. That is something that has to be avoided. At the same time, we cannot go on deferring decisions about new reactors because of arguments which are unlikely to be settled until the plants are actually built. Unlike the United States, we cannot turn to oil shales or tar sands as a major source of oil. Reference has been made to both of these sources. We should, however, satisfy ourselves in this country that there are no reserves of geothermal energy which could be tapped. Noble Lords may be aware that there was recently a chance find of hot water in a borehole under Paris—water which is now used for heating 1,500 living units. That is merely an indication of the present uncertainty. I should therefore like to ask the Government whether or not the Institute of Geological Sciences should be asked as a matter of urgency to investigate the heat flow pattern under the United Kingdom. In counting the cost, we can note that more than 20 bore-holes for such an investigation could be sunk for one that is put down in the North Sea.
Let me now turn to the question of cost—a matter which has already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet; and I know that one or two noble Lords who are economists are likely to refer to this matter later in the debate. I appreciate the immense political difficulties of turning away from the normal kind of costing when one discusses large investments, but in looking to the future of our energy supplies it is essential never to forget that we are boxed in to a form of life which demands the liberal use of energy. It is not just our motor cars or our central heating: it is our industry, it is our agriculture, it is the whole of our urbanised civilisation which would break down unless we were assured of energy, regardless of its cost. If our urban water supplies were to become chronically polluted and poisoned, we should have to pay, whatever the cost, to make them pure. The same is true to-day of our future supplies of energy.
Now one word about conservation and waste. I should like to know that 646 in whatever research and development programme is started these matters are brought to the attention of the Government institutions concerned. We must learn to follow the right building techniques from the point of view of insulation; this matter should be dealt with more seriously than it has been in the past. Here we are likely to learn something from the Americans. I have just returned from a visit there, where I discussed energy supplies with several people who are well informed, and where I learned that they are likely to embark on a crash R. and D. programme at an estimated cost of 2 billion dollars a year for five years.
Now one word about safety. An enormous amount is being done to satisfy the requirements of safety in nuclear power stations. But we heard some hideous figures from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the thousands and thousands who would be exposed to risk should there be an accident. I should like to say here that in all my experience of public science I know of no subject which has been treated with greater responsibility by the scientists and engineers concerned. They recognise that one major disaster in a nuclear power station—and it would not matter if it was or was not ours; it could be anywhere in the world—would set back nuclear power for years. We cannot live without fuel and energy, and it is no use designing power plants which would destroy us. That is something which is fully recognised by the professionals who are engaged in work on nuclear power. What I therefore hope is that the environmental groups who have been casting doubts on nuclear power on the score of safety do not become too extreme in their demands; so deaf to technically informed opinion that they retard what might be essential in the public interest. As I said, modern society deprived of an assured supply of energy would break down. Environmentalists and ecologists are aware of the fact that any deliberate and sudden change in any single clement in an ecological system could have secondary results which are neither expected nor welcome. We have only to think of D.D.T. for an illustration of that fact. But what environmentalists and ecologists also need to remember is 647 that socio-economic systems are no less sensitive to sudden change than those which are called ecological, and that any long-term disruption in our supplies of energy would in fact constitute such a sudden change.
I referred to the R. and D. programme of the United States. It is my firm belief that as we take steps to assure our own energy future, as we overcome our present difficulties, we must pay close attention to what the U.S. does in the hope that she will get out of her difficulties rapidly. The faster she does so the better for us. That emerges from some very simple figures. The total of the U.S. energy requirements in 1972, I understand, was over 1.500 million tons of oil equivalent. Nearly 50 per cent. of this was supplied by oil itself, and 30 per cent. of this oil was imported, 10 per cent. from the Middle East. Our own total energy requirement in 1972 was less than 200 million tons oil equivalent, of which 93 million tons came from imported oil. Theoretically, therefore, a 14 per cent. reduction in oil-burning in the U.S., or a 7 per cent. reduction in her total energy demand, would provide for all our present oil requirements. As is widely recognised now in the United States, natural gas, in a period of euphoria, was all but given away free, thus discouraging investment, either in new R. and D. or in other energy sources, or even in oil exploration, and also encouraging waste.
On my recent visit to the United States I was told that there was a strong likelihood that the United States would become more efficient and more economical in its use of oil and gas, and that it was certainly possible to achieve a 10 per cent. saving in energy. The figures speak for themselves. Per head of population, the United States is now expending exactly twice as much energy as we do. The scope for a reduction of 10 per cent., which would undoubtedly lighten world problems, is certainly on the cards. Furthermore, the United States has enormous resources of untapped energy. It is not just the tar sands or oil shale, to which reference has been made. Reference has also been made, I think, to some coal seams. I was told of one area where there are extensive coal seams immediately beneath the surface, 60 feet 648 thick. All that is necessary is the machinery to move this coal; but that, of course, takes time to produce.
We cannot attempt to match the United States in their R. and D. programme, but I am sure that there is a great deal that we could do. The Institute of Fuel Paper, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred, lists a number of projects at which we should look. But the question for the moment, as I said, is really one of decision. I do not like the word "crisis": I prefer to regard the present situation as one of challenge. Furthermore, when people now talk about zero economic growth because of a lack of energy, I become disturbed because the term is confused with the concept which is expressed in a book, which I am afraid I did not greatly hold with, called Limits to Growth. We are not up against any limit to growth at the present moment.
Finally, may I refer to a National Energy Commission. I have thought about this, and I wondered really whether it is the right proposal at this moment. On reflection, I am uncertain. The whole of the energy picture has too many repercussions for them all to be dealt with by a Commission which would be concerned only with energy supplies. I personally would therefore prefer to learn what the Government propose to do about the matter before giving my own view about what new machinery is called for.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD ENERGLYN
My Lords, it took Aberfan to make us appreciate the disastrous characteristics of colliery tips, and how we might make some use of them. It took the "Torrey Canyon" to make everybody realise that pollution was a real problem, and that we must do something about it. Now it has taken the sheikhs of Arabia to make every country in the world appreciate their dependence upon solid and liquid fuels. In this situation it is therefore to be feared that when it is resolved, as I hope it soon will be, we might sit back again and complacently pay lip service to researches for energy. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, that we should reach out and diversify, and snatch and make good any possible source of new energy.
My Lords, it seems to me that if we take a rather calm look at the energy pattern at 649 the present time it is very encouraging to find that we are only 45.6 per cent. dependent upon petroleum, whereas the figure for Denmark, for example, is 93 per cent. and that for Italy is 79 per cent., and even for France, apparently, it is 68 per cent. On the other hand, when we consider the amount of petroleum we use for generating electricity and consume on the roads we find that we use 19 million tons of oil in generating electricity and apparently 22 million tons on the roads. This is the kind of pattern that I think we should have constantly under review, because it is in judging this pattern that we might be able to gain the time necessary for us to bring the resources of the North Sea and the Celtic Sea into operation. But even when we have reached and achieved these bonanzas we must always be aware that they are wasting assets and that they are providing us only with another measure of time in which to gain further sources of energy.
Within the realm of wasting assets we have to face the fact that the intolerable conditions in the mines will cause human beings to leave. But so long as men are prepared to endure the environment of a mine we should use that time to think ahead and introduce as many forms of machine mining as we can devise. I think, therefore, though many may not agree, that the right note was struck by the science correspondent in the Daily Telegraph in an interview with Professor Thring of Queen Mary College, London, in which the Professor described his concept of a robot miner. He visualises:a smallish machine with a caterpillar tread capable of working in confined places and pulling itself up steep inclines. It would reinforce its tunnel against roof collapse and not be perturbed by coal dust, and would be impervious to poisonous gases which drive men out of the mines.When he was asked about cost, the Professor claimed:If £500,000 a year were spent for 10 years I am absolutely certain you could do it.My Lords, his timing is right and the cost is reasonable, because in 10 years' time at the present rate of wastage the mining population will be in a rather serious plight.
The steel industry, as we all know, is exceedingly sensitive to changes in the supplies of energy. The British Steel Corporation are already cutting down 650 on steel supplies for one reason; that is, the shortage of metallurgical coke; because it is not all types of coal which can be converted into coke. I therefore maintain that this critical factor should never again be allowed to interfere with our production of iron and steel provided we can devise some way to make iron and steel without using coke. One solution to this problem would be to convert coal into a liquid condition. I hasten to add that I am not talking about the hydro-generation of coal into oil. In itself that process consumes too much energy. I am talking about the conversion of coal into a liquefied condition, or at worst an emulsified condition. This is now conceivable because in the last decade we have been provided by the instrument makers with new devices which enable us to look into the heart and structure of coal. Now we can see quite clearly what coal really is. It is petroleum fixed by particles of carbon into solidified state. So if we can break what is called the absorption coefficient between the particles of carbon and the coal, the coal will collapse into liquid. This has been done in the laboratory. In itself, this would have an enormous repercussion. It would mean that the mechanical miner, instead of digging coal, would scrape the coal to powder and would transfer the powder to pipes. The powder would be fluidised through the mine up to the surface into the liquefying plant and from there is could be piped again to the centres where it was needed. That would remove enormous overhead costs on the production of this solid fuel. Furthermore, its impact on the iron and steel industry would be that this fluidised material would be pelletised with powdered iron ore and you would have built into every pellet its own source of heat and its own reducing power; and there you would have the perfect direct smelting process. In a normal solid fuel power station with practically no alteration of design it would be possible to pipe this liquid fuel in to replace petroleum. So I suggest with all sincerity that the repercussions of that quite simple experiment on the industry would be profound.
As other noble Lords have said, the centre of our energy pattern as we look at it to-day is atomic power in all its forms. But I share the diffidence of my noble friend Lord Zuckerman. I do not feel competent to comment on this area 651 of energy because a little knowledge in this area is exceedingly dangerous and to utter journalistic decisions in this complicated area of energy is, I think, even more dangerous. I therefore pass on to the area of energy that I should like to call the inexhaustible sources of energy, and in particular the use of water, which I am sure will appeal to the noble Lord on the other side of the House who is so engaging in his attitude to everything that I have to say.
At the present moment I am given to understand that only about 10 per cent. of the water resources of the world are being used, and we may take that for what it is worth. But it has also been thought that hydro-electric schemes are feasible only if they are carried out on a large scale. This, on cost analysis, is perfectly true, but if you are looking for sources of energy on an indefinite basis, then the cost parameters are quite different, and in future we shall be forced to look to small hydro-electric stations as being necessary in certain parts of the world. Harnessing the tides has always been an attractive feature in engineering, and I should like to give high praise to the French engineers in the production of the barrage at Rance, where they use the 30-foot tidal surge of the sea. They claim, and I believe their claim will be substantiated, that they are going to generate 50 million kilowatt hours per year. That is some power. This substantial output means to me that we ought to look again at the Bristol Channel where these tidal surges are prevalent.
We also ought to look at the model at Passamaquoddy on the 49th Parallel of the Eastern Seaboard of America where they have two basins in which tidal waters move from one basin to the other and create a continuous flow of indefinite energy. This could be done at several places in the Bristol Channel. Because of the existence of iron and steel centres at Cardiff and Port Talbot, and for no other reason, I suggest that such a two-basin station, a hydro-marine station, could be constructed between Cardiff and Newport, and between Port Talbot and Swansea. Now the creation of these hydro-marine power stations, of course, is always ruled out by the costs in both money and time of making the barrages. But 652 now we have had, oddly enough from a most peculiar area of research, the answer to this problem. In the Paper Packaging Research Association they have demonstrated to me how to package anything you like and fill the packet. Now we can conceive of packaging all the coal-tips in the country into polythene bags and using them like sandbags, but with this advantage: that the polythene bag, being water repellant, will sink to the sea floor, and being able to resist the corrosion of the sea will remain there forever. So we can form a barrage now, rid the countryside of these spoilheaps, and create the barrages we are talking about.
Now supposing I am talking pipe dreams, just imagine what this would ultimately mean in terms of a place like South Wales. It would mean that we could completely electrify the manufacture of iron and steel, and at the same time, because we have surplus electricity, consider installing aluminium smelters. By joining the two together, taking the slag from the iron and steel and joining the electrolytic cells of the aluminium smelter you would get a sensible process for producing iron and steel and aluminium. That would be the kind of forward picture that I should have in my mind in setting out these hydro-marine stations in the Bristol Channel.
Then I naturally come to the other source of eternal power, and that is the crust of the earth. It is surprising, really, how much back-up information now exists regarding the geothermal characteristics of the crust. We are all aware of the enormous power of the geysers of Iceland and New Zealand. What I think has not been particularly well publicised is the geothermal power stations at Larderello, in Tuscany, where the Italians have produced 390 megawatts—enough power to run the whole of their electrified railway lines. This massive achievement provides all the technological back-up to making the search for geothermal power energy a realistic proposition. Japan is already producing 23 megawatts, and a 75 megawatt station is being constructed in Mexico. Should we sit back and still ignore the possibilities of there being hot spots in Britain? When the Romans came here, they used the natural artesian hot springs of Bath. 653 We still do not know what brings that water to practically the boiling point.
Contrary to popular belief it is not in volcanic areas that hot spots occur. Bath is not within a thousand miles of an active volcano. The geothermal flow of heat is found to be mainly concentrated in those areas of brittle rock whose brittleness is reflected by earthquakes. By that I do not mean violent earthquakes; I mean many successive earthquakes. We have in this country a number of such centres. In the centre of England we have the buried ancient massif of Charnwood Forest, along which the brittle strata is rumbling all the time. It does not cause any damage; but it is there and we feel it. We have never drilled for heat in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has said the time has come for us to institute a survey for geothermal energy in this country because it is cheap: once you have got it, it will last for ever. Now, oddly enough, the knowledge of geothermal energy has provided, in my opinion, an answer to the use of coalmine shafts. I have mentioned this before in your Lordships' House. There are many dozens of coalmine shafts over a thousand feet deep, down which we could put water and have turbines at the bottom producing cheap electricity almost overnight. The problem is to get rid of the water. The recently published knowledge of geothermal power stations has provided the answer. That answer is that you convert the water that has descended down the shaft into steam. Now I would remind your Lordships that every colliery has two shafts: the downcast and the upcast. So you use the downcast shaft for producing conventional hydro-electricity, and the upcast shaft could be used for a steam turbine, and the excess water distributed as a district heating scheme—"for free" if you like, as is the case in Iceland at the present time. So I suggest, with all seriousness, that the study of geothermal energy has given us an area of diversification which one would not even have thought possible a year ago.
I now turn to the realm of creating electricity without turbines and dynamos—in other words, the role of fuel cells. There is no doubt in my mind that the battery driven motor car is not common-place because of the enormous vested interest in petroleum and the petrol 654 industry. If we wish to escape from the petrol engine in our motor cars, then it seems to me that we ought to give unlimited encouragement to the production of fuel cells for motor cars. Just imagine what life would be like with battery driven motor cars. Imagine what London would be like. The roar of the traffic would have gone, and one could walk the streets breathing the fresh air without petrol fumes polluting every breath one takes.
My Lords, I should like to close by saying that I, too, do not regard the present situation as a crisis. In fact, it gives me a certain amount of thrill. There is a challenge here, a challenge which has not emerged as vividly as now since the end of the war. I think this challenge will now unleash the enormous amount of knowledge and expertise in this country. If nothing else comes out of this situation, I hope it will do one thing: that is, as we did during the war, abolish that word "impossible".
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow Lord Energlyn in such an outstanding speech, with all the knowledge that he brings to your Lordships' House. I do not think it is always true that our debates often are infinitely better than they are in the other place. They are certainly quieter, and certainly much better informed, as we have seen this afternoon. My Lords, I owe the House one apology, as I shall not be able to stay to the end of the debate. I have at 8 o'clock this evening a previous commitment which I undertook a long time ago. Your Lordships' House is generally so civilised that it is up by 8 o'clock and one can assume, after 20 years of being tied to the House of Commons, that such arrangements can be safely accepted. I realise that in this instance my estimate was wrong. I want to concentrate on one or two ideas. The first is how we might conserve and allocate our existing sources; secondly, how we might increase the rate of development of alternative sources; and lastly, to make an appeal to the Government that they should tell the nation what is happening. At the moment the nation does not understand. It is in a mood to co-operate, and actually is co-operating to the greatest possible extent: but it does not know the why or wherefore.
655 My Lords, to start with, one thing one has to say is that the Arabs have brought this crisis to a head. Though we are discussing mainly oil, I do not believe that the lesson will be lost on producers of other commodities, whether they be metals or other essential commodities. I am afraid the Arabs have started what I might call a disease so far as the developed world is concerned, which might well spread. I think that we should be aware of this and consider what steps we should take in the long term.
This of course has been aggravated by the attitude of the coal miners. I happen to believe that the present restrictions in the mines do not represent the will of the majority of the coal miners. I have a feeling that they have been prevailed upon by their Marxist Secretary-General, Mr. Daly, to a much greater extent than the nation understands. I am the first to say, of course, that the miners have a nasty and dangerous job. If there is a limited amount of money available, I am not sure that the greatest sums should not go to the men at the coal face who are actually doing the work, rather than to the clerks who never go underground. Sixty pounds, which is what is now being offered to those at the coal face—a 16½ per cent. increase—seems to me to be fully justified. I am less happy that a 16½ per cent. increase should be given to a young person totally unqualified, who never goes underground and does not work any overtime. It does not seem to me to be a fair arrangement. The skilled workmen, those doing the nasty job—all power to their elbows—the nation should reward. But I am less enthusiastic about the others.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, may I ask what hours a man would have to work, and what shifts, to earn £60 a week at the coal face?
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the details. At present the offer is £55.38. I acknowledge that this is not typical of all Coal Board employees. It is what could be paid to the man at the coal face working normal shifts with some overtime. And working night shifts only, or more overtime, would increase the value of the offer to him up to £60 a week.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, apart from working overtime, under the National Powerloading Agreement the maximum wage is just under £35?
§ LORD ORR-EWING
Yes. But I do not think maximum statutory wages are realistic. I am quoting figures from the National Coal Board on earnings—wage, plus fringe benefits works, allowing for unsocial hours and productivity agreements. It is in their statutory agreement that a certain amount of overtime should be worked on a shift system. However, I do not want to be drawn into an area in which I realise the noble Lord is a much greater expert than I am. I just say that it is a significant offer, and it is a special offer, with unsocial hours being allowed for. It is twice the percentage increase which is allowed to anybody else under Phase 3.
My Lords, I think that the motoring public are seeing just the tip of the iceberg in the inconvenience which they are now suffering. My noble friend Lord Polwarth, who opened from the Front Bench on this side, was not really informed about what is happening. In my intervention I quoted an instance of a garage where they take five tanker deliveries a week normally and they were cut to two deliveries a week. That is not a 10 per cent. cut; it is a 60 per cent. cut. When I made that intervention, another noble Lord from this side said that he was the owner of a petrol pump, and he had received a circular from British Petroleum saying that on the basis of September deliveries he was only going to have delivered 40 per cent. of his allowance. This again is a 60 per cent. cut. This is not a single instance; it was a circular letter which went to all garages in the area which were getting petrol from British Petroleum. I would urge my noble friend to look into these matters. It is not good enough that this House and the public should not know the facts. The public do not know the facts; and they are completely perplexed when they are told that only 10 per cent. of the fuel supply has been cut off.
I want now to turn my attention to other ways of preserving energy. On February 23 of this year, the noble Lord, Lord Hanworth, and I, together with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, took part in 657 a debate on energy initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, from the Liberal Benches. We drew attention then to the staggering savings which could be made if the Government could stimulate a little more insulation in our domestic houses. Our houses take one-third of all the energy we are using—that is, domestic heating in houses. For an expenditure of about £10 on improved roof insulation, we could save substantial quantities of fuel. I urge the Government once again to look into this. It was put forward in February; it is much more important now. We said that in this country the standards of insulation are totally out of keeping with present day costs of fuel and the difficulty of getting it. It was all right of course in the nineteenth century when we had an abundance of coal at very cheap prices. It is no good when we have to bring valuable oil supplies or limited gas supplies from overseas. I would direct my noble friend's attention to the fact that in Europe the standard of house insulation is two and a half times better than ours. They realise now how important it is—probably because they did not have the plentiful supplies of coal that we had one hundred years ago. At a single stroke, if I may coin a phrase, we could save immense sums of money. It is rather better, I think, to give grants for insulation than it is to give grants for bathrooms which people can receive at present. desirable though that is.
My Lords, I want to speak not just of the motorist or domestic insulation, but particularly about industry. At present the Government say that they do not think that a strict rationing and allocation system is essential. But can they tell us whether plans are being made. In 1951, when there was a crisis under the Government of Mr. Churchill (as he then was), he created "super-priority". I hope that a plan is being worked out so that our essential services and our essential basic industries, of which perhaps steel is the most important, will get priority in the allocation of the fuel oil which is available. I would also make the point that many of our industries (here I speak from experience of a hoard meeting yesterday and the day before) are desperately dependent on their sub-contractors and on the supply of raw materials which come by vehicles. Those vehicles need diesel fuel. We all know 658 that the delivery of raw materials and the delivery time of components has been going out and out as our economy has speeded up and the demand has become greater. I know that at the moment we are not getting supplies through and the hauliers and others are pleading that they cannot get the fuel oil to run their lorries; some less scrupulous among them are running their lorries and asking for a premium for delivery. This again will add to the inflation in the country which the Government are so anxious to control.
I now turn, my Lords, to the question of organisation. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, from his great knowledge of Government, did not give us his advice, but rather rested on the view expressed from the Front Bench as to the way it should be done.
§ LORD ZUCKERMAN
My Lords, I merely indicated that I did not agree that a Royal Commission—or the kind of Commission that I understood the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to be advocating—could do this job. Furthermore, I do not believe that this problem of energy as a resource can be looked at in isolation, and I trust the Government will not do that.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I stand corrected and I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, for his intervention. I know how much experience he has had in the scientific field and in Government and I know that the House will take his views very seriously. My own view is that we should perhaps create a Ministry for Energy. I do not believe that it should be a separate Ministry, because our problems are so immediate that I do not want to see a recreation of a Ministry of Fuel and Power. It seems to me that that would create a great deal of turmoil in Whitehall, and we have not the time to set about such a reorganisation. I should like to see a Ministry for Energy created within the Department of Trade and Industry but more or less autonomous and self-sufficient. It was Mr. Churchill who tried the experiment of these enormous Ministries with overlords presiding over them. I do not think they worked then, and I am not at all certain that anyone—not even the right honourable Archangel Gabriel, if he were in charge of the Ministry of Trade and Industry 659 with 20,000 civil servants under his control—could administer that efficiently. Every engineer here will know that the momentum of a mass—in this case a Ministry—is dependent upon its size; and the bigger the mass the less likely you are to get quick decisions or quick movements. I believe we need quick decisions, so I should like to see a hiving off, under the D.T.I., of a Ministry for Energy.
I am perfectly prepared to accept the view, suggested by the noble Lord, that we should try to get some scientific brains together to explore all orthodox and unorthodox ways of creating energy. We have to solve this energy equation all over again. Solutions which were arrived at ten years ago must not be accepted in to-day's context. The values have completely changed and the problems, I think, should be re-examined. Too often, as we get older, we accept the solution to something that we worked out twenty years ago, and we forget that some things have now become plentiful which were then scarce, or vice versa. Therefore, through laziness of mind, we do not start to do it all over again. I believe that if we had a Royal Commission, as was suggested, it should be a gathering together of people with scientific knowledge—and I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, would be on it—and unorthodox ideas. Please do not let us accept that it is impossible or that it must take a great deal of time. Mulberry Harbour would have been thought utterly impossible at one time, yet it was brought into existence and the first operational prototype worked extremely efficiently after a period of three years. The pipeline under the ocean (PLUTO) would also have been thought utterly impossible at one time. But scientific brains were got together round the Prime Minister of the day, and there was a great desire on the part of the nation to solve the problem—and we did. So if you get great brains together you will get gains all the way.
I happened to sit with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the Select Committee of Science and Technology which was looking into nuclear power stations, so I have a special interest—and also I took my degree at Oxford in Nuclear Physics, thanks to a very wise professor who led 660 me in that direction in the early 1930s. Therefore I am perhaps not entirely objective; but I accept that it will take time to build these power stations—the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said it would take some eight or ten years. If I had to make a choice, I would say: let us go for the proven technology of the Magnox which has been tried in this country, and let us build the improvements which have come out of the Mark I Magnox into a second Mark. In these areas of applied technology the proven instrument is so much better, particularly when time is short. So I would recommend that as a possible approach.
I am also greatly attracted to hydroelectric schemes. I would add my voice to others who have suggested that we should re-examine these schemes, particularly in Scotland and Wales. Do not let us think that we need to have a gigantic scheme which would put 50 miles, or an entire valley under water. There are a number of viable smaller schemes now that can run electricity quite cheaply over grids and these might well help our problem. I am also attracted to pump storage. I can never quite understand why this has not caught on—there must be some factor which I have not discovered. It seems to me an extremely attractive idea to generate electricity during the peak hours when you want it, and to pump the water back over the fall at night when you have surplus electricity from your base stations. As I say, this seems to me to be very attractive. Let us examine again the cost, the time factor and the attractiveness of it. Again, I should like to advocate that we should examine, among other things, tidal power. Like the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, I have also looked at the Severn and other places, and it seems to be a very attractive proposition. The French are doing this— and perhaps I might point out that we constantly say we cannot afford this or that in this country, but you have only to look at what France is doing with a similar population. They are doing about twice as much as we are. If they can afford it, so can we.
Finally, I come to the question of a geological survey. The noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, is a much greater expert than I am on this subject, and I apologise for venturing upon ground on which he is so knowledgeable. Surely modern technological surveys can be undertaken 661 more quickly and more accurately than they could of old. Ought we not now to reconsider a modern survey of our country, re-exploring the possibility of raw materials, as well as of energy sources of all types? They were not so important when the survey was done 50 years ago, and I think that skilled manpower is now available. It would not need a vast amount of effort to carry out a really up-to-date survey, using most modern methods. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who accused him of having changed his mind. I was always comforted, I remember, when we both sat in another place, when Mr. Churchill was interrupted and was accused of having changed his mind. He said then:The processes of my mind constantly adjust themselves to the movement of outside events.I have the feeling that that fully explains why he changed his mind in those days and why we may have to change our minds on the sources of energy which we are going to use.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. I did not object, of course, to the noble Lord's changing his mind: that is his business. What I object to is the Liberal Party posing up and down the country, and in this House, as the forerunner of opinion, and the failure of the noble Lord to say to the House: "I have changed my mind. I said something in 1967, and the country to-day faces the consequences of what I advocated then. Now I admit that I was wrong, and this is what we now ought to do." This is what I am complaining of, and I will complain about it whether it occurs on this Bench, that Bench or the other Bench.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I am delighted to say that I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said in that last intervention.
My last appeal to the Government is: please tell the nation what is happening. It really is no good having Question and Answer periods in another place or in this House. The messages do not go out—I wish they did—from Westminster now. This is one of the reasons why I was a great advocate for the televising of Parliament, because I felt that in an age when the television medium was the 662 dominant one we could not opt out of communicating our deliberations and discussions to the public. However, it did not come about—it was defeated by one vote, I believe by Mr. Aidan Crawley, who confessed that he changed his mind—and then he went and ran a television network instead of sitting in the House. So the televising of Parliament has not come about. But I do plead that we should consider asking Ministers now to go on "the box" and explain to the motoring public and to the nation what is happening, why we are short and what the Government are doing to put matters right. I am sure that every noble Lord was very agreeably amazed at the manner in which the motoring public co-operated with the plea to motor at 50 miles an hour. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, laughs, but I have driven quite a long way on motorways, and I assure noble Lords that I was not passed more than once or twice in every half hour's driving; and the vast majority of people were driving at only 50 miles an hour. I know there are exceptions, though I will not mention the type of chaps they were or the cars they were driving. There are exceptions to every plea, but to-day the public are in a mood to co-operate. They cannot co-operate, however, unless they are told the facts, and I ask the Government to go on "the box" and tell them the facts, tell them what is being done to organise our energy supplies. And let us not dismiss any new ideas that will help solve that problem.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for initiating this debate. We have a great deal of detailed legislation before this House and it is a good thing, I think, to devote ourselves for one afternoon and evening to a subject which in a sense affects everything that we do. I speak with very great diffidence, because even noble Lords who I thought were simply laymen introducing themselves in this way turn out to be professors or graduates with maximum honours in the subject that we are talking about. But I feel that from these Benches occasionally somebody should arise to speak as the plain man, and that is what I do—and I describe it in that way because we all accept that there is no such thing as a plain woman.
663 I wish to avoid going in any detail into my own subject of foreign policy and diplomacy because I believe that we should support unreservedly the Prime Minister's exhortation to deal with the present situation in the world with quiet diplomacy. At this particular moment, British foreign policy and British diplomacy are—and I do not think this is an exaggeration—walking every hour on eggs, and the eggs are strewn around a minefield. It would be so easy by one incautious public statement to slow down the process of peace-making or to render ourselves useless in contributing to peacemaking. It is very much better that the traditional processes should work themselves out at least for a little longer.
So, avoiding that, I should like to deal very briefly with three aspects of the present situation which I will call coherence, foresight and, finally, courage—and I do not apologise for using the word "courage", for I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, used the word "courageous" in the February debate about research; and I think that a great deal of courage is involved in this question. If I may come first to coherence, perhaps I may quote a few dates to your Lordships. The Arab-Israeli hostilities began on October 6; on the 17th the representatives of four of the oil producing States, including two of the greatest producers in the world, met in Kuwait. They announced a decision to cut production by 10 per cent., and forecast a possible reduction of 5 per cent. per month. It was then that I read with some surprise in the Government Statement of October 24 the phrase—and I am quoting only part of a sentence, but it is very psychological: "in case we do ever need such a scheme…" that is to say, rationing.
This was followed some three weeks later by the Emergency Statement, and the result of this sequence of events gave a totally false impression. I am sure that something was intended against our own industries by the fact that the emergency seemed to coincide with our difficulties in power and in mining and somehow to detach itself from the oil problem. I do plead—and I here join with the noble Lord who has just spoken so eloquently and encouragingly—for clarity between the different parts of the Gov- 664 ernment on this matter, because it is a very puzzling situation for the public who do not know quite where they are or what to do. Certainly, despite the immense complexity of business within the Government, there seems to me a possibility and the necessity for making sure that not only coal but steel, oil and so on should speak with one voice; and it is immensely important that they should do so.
May I add one sentence to what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said about rationing? I do wish to float the idea that in a situation of this kind it is possible for a short time to ask the public to do things out of a sense of obligation, to put the public on its honour. But it surely must be understood from previous experience that this cannot be done for very long, because in the end it simply means that the unscrupulous get all the benefits and the conscientious suffer. I think it would not be wise to go on speaking as though this idea were completely excluded, and I hope that, as the noble Lord suggested, we shall have a little clarity on Government policy.
Now I proceed to the question of organisation, on which much has already been said. I should first say that I read with great encouragement what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said on Monday about various things individually that the Government are doing. In speaking of setting up new organisations I am perfectly aware that a profusion of bodies does not necessarily remove the confusion of minds. None the less, it seems as though it is time for there to be some high-level body in which all the aspects and elements of energy can be compared, looked into, examined and an initiative launched by people who are familiar with them.
I can imagine that some of the meetings of such a body would be extremely abrasive; but, after all, that is what Government have to contend with. But I think that from both the absolute viewpoint of efficiency and looking ahead this is necessary, and I am even more certain that from the point of view again of the plain man it is what the plain man would like to see. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has changed his mind on this. I am sure that such a body has to be, in the end, 665 under the authority of the Minister, not as an indvidual but as a Member of the Cabinet and the Government; and I suggest that perhaps it would be better to call it an Energy Agency or an Energy Board, rather than an Energy Commission. I suggest this because to the general public the word "Commission" suggests an extremely worthy and statesmanlike body which prepares an excellent report and then retires, amid applause, and the report retires similarly into the book-shelf. This should be, of all things, an active body which will carry out what I think the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, described in a previous debate as the liveliness of research and initiativeness into this problem.
Going on with that I would also mention a point which has not so far been mentioned to-day: should there be an attempt to produce an energy plan? I know all the arguments against it and the word "flexibility" gets extremely worn in this discussion. On the other hand, modern management practice tends more and more towards management by objectives, and it is possible that there would be no harm in at least putting forward objectives which the country and its industry would try to live up to. It may be objected that you make a five-year plan and then you are stuck with it. May I just cite the practice which the Government of India adopted in the question of plans when I was there? That was that you did indeed have a five-year plan, but you had a very good look at it each year. Obviously, some reputations diminished and others went up, but you were not stuck with it; there was always the possibility of a revision if you saw that the objectives were wrong or that you had not the resources to pursue quite as big a plan as you contemplated. So I hope that the Government will look favourably on the idea of an Energy Board and will not close their mind to the possibility of that Board's producing an energy policy.
I was afraid that my last point was going to be a difficult one to express, but the noble Lord who has just spoken has fortunately given me a cue. If noble Lords go from the calm and thoughtful atmosphere of your Lordships' House out into the street and talk to almost anybody, whether your Lordships know them or 666 not, you will find an almost unanimity of thought that in a very general way this country is not in its best form. I have been trying to think in the context of what we are talking about now why this should be so. I believe it to be partly a matter of the post-imperial psychological reaction that we hear and read so much about how unimportant we have become, and how the things we did were wrong: we have a negative psychology, against which any Government have to work.
In addition to that—and here I will go back to the Russian Revolution—in March 1917 the Russian people overthrew the autocracy. In the interval between that Revolution being accomplished and the country being taken over by the Communist Party there was one slogan which was very important, "The worse, the better". In other words, the more trouble there could be, the more quickly would a complete overturn of everything be brought about. We as a country must face—and the point is gradually surfacing in the media and elsewhere—that there are people dedicated to this proposition in this country. Any Government of any Party will have to carry out this great revolution in energy against a certain amount of pressure in a purely destructive direction. If this fact is realised, admitted and countered, the chance of achieving this technological and power revolution will be that much facilitated.
So I commend to your Lordships once again a coherence in Government utterance, a good look at the organisation we have to deal with energy, including a favourable look at the idea of an Energy Board, and, finally any way we can all think of of substituting a positive attitude for a negative one towards our future. We must now, in the words of that famous quotation once again learn to "Greet the unseen with a cheer."
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I was most interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and I shall re-read it with interest and pleasure. He made one statement that captivated my attention when he said that these circumstances are more of challenge than of crisis. I could not help but think that, historically speaking, crises very often precede challenge. The question of energy, and the 667 fuels which provide such energy, as has been demonstrated in your Lordships House to-day, is in everybody's mind and on everybody's lips at the moment, not only here in Britain but throughout the world, particularly in the industrialised nations. I think we can say on this problem of energy and fuel that there is no dearth in articulation. The spoken and the written word is in full flow in Parliaments throughout many parts of the world; in the Press, on the radio, on television, and on every platform. Every day people are saying something about this vital question of fuel and energy. Coal and oil are two of the four fuels which in this country contribute the major part to our energy requirements, and the circumstances with which we are confronted here in the energy sphere, I think we should all agree, make this debate in your Lordships' House today both appropriate and timely. Whatever view may be held in any part of your Lordships' House on the question of fuel and energy, whatever mistakes have been made in the past, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Kennet for providing the opportunity for this question on fuel and energy to be ventilated and debated here to-day.
With your Lordships' indulgence, I propose to make a few observations about two of our fuels; namely, oil and coal, which at this point in time are the most substantial bases of our energy requirements. Before doing that, may I just ask the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who is to reply to the debate, whether he will say something about nuclear power. It was referred to in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. Could the noble Lord tell us the role that nuclear power is likely to play in our energy requirements in the next decade? In 1955—that is, almost twenty years ago—the nuclear energy industry began to expand from experimental power stations to an energy contribution which in 1972 reached the equivalent of 10 million tons of coal. That is twenty years for nuclear energy to supply only that small portion in the form of electrical power, which I understand is about 3 per cent. of our total energy requirements. That is only a drop in the ocean at the moment. I know that there are problems; and maybe the Minister will have something 668 to say about them. There are technical problems and financial problems. It would serve this nation well if at this stage we were to spend money on nuclear power to meet our energy requirements, rather than on such subjects as Maplin and the Channel Tunnel. I wonder whether the Minister can indicate to your Lordships what the estimated contribution of nuclear power to our energy requirements, say, ten years hence, is likely to be. In saying that, I suggest that in view of the precariousness of the situation in the energy field, the Government should make up their minds what contribution nuclear power is likely to make in the next ten years to our energy requirements.
In industrial processes and production in industrial societies, not only in Britain but throughout Europe, America, Japan and Russia, with their sophisticated techniques and machinery, the basis of it all is energy. In Britain, for instance, that aplies to every section of our industry and the manufacture of our goods. Even in agriculture, what a transformation there has been in this particular sphere! The land is now ploughed by mechanical tractors. The fruits of the earth are garnered by mechanical processes, and even the cow is milked by electric power. That is the size of the transformation that has taken place in only one of our major and important industries. Almost every household, office, building and shop is lit and heated, and so they should be; and modern technology, in my humble judgment, without the energy which is provided by fuel, could not exist. May I put it this way? Without fuel, whether it be fossil in the form of coal, or marine life in the form of oil, or mineral in the form of uranium for nuclear power, the energy required to run a modern, sophisticated society would not exist. Fuel is priority No. 1 in our modern society, and without it, or if it is restricted in supply, as is evidenced at the present moment, we are really in a crisis.
I now wish to say a few words about the possible and probable reserves of oil and natural gas. Naturally, as a layman with no scientific or technical knowledge, I have to rely upon the knowledgeable experts. My first piece of evidence in this sphere is from a man named Dr. Warman. He is British Petroleum's chief 669 geologist. I quote from what was published on November 15, 1973, from Dr. Warman's lips:The total recoverable reserves of oil in the world are from 16 to 18 hundred billion barrels, well under half the amount needed by the year 2000 if the demand continues to grow, say at a rate of 7½ per cent. a year; even to satisfy present consumption the world requires a new North Sea every two years.That is somewhat of a sombre prospect so far as oil as a fuel is concerned—25 years: it is not a long way off, only a couple of decades. And on the evidence I have just quoted the wells by then will have dried up and the bottom of the barrels will have been scraped by the world. The Evening Standard, who published this evidence on the date that I have mentioned, made this comment:'Generally speaking, the figures of Dr. Warman are not disputed by the oil experts.My second and last piece of scientific evidence is from the United Nations Economic Committee. This body recently made this forecast—and I quote:By the year 2000, 87 per cent. of all proven, probable and possible reserves of oil will have been consumed; 76 per cent. of natural gas; but only 2 per cent. of our reserves of coal.Those figures and forecasts, in the light of our existing dependence, and the world's dependence, on oil, are, to put it no higher, a little frightening. They are certainly not reassuring. If I may use a metaphor, they are not like the widow's barrel of meal and the cruse of oil that wasteth not. At this moment 50 per cent. of our energy requirements is being met by oil.
Another point I should like to ask the Minister at this stage is this. I have the figures for our energy requirements up to 1970. At that time they were 328 million tons of coal equivalent, and 300 million was almost equally shared between coal and oil, and the remainder between natural gas and nuclear power. It is estimated—and maybe the Minister will comment upon this—that demand for energy will not only grow but, on the basis of an expanding economy, by 1975 our energy requirements will be in the neighbourhood of 370 million tons of coal equivalent, and with further economic growth by 1980 it is estimated that they could 670 be 440 million tons. It is like a motor car, is it not, my Lords?—the faster you go, the more fuel you require. That is why we are having the present restrictions placed upon us.
It is well known, but it is as well to re-state it, that 70 per cent. of our import of oil, which supplies now half our energy requirements, comes from the Middle East. One-tenth reduction, and crisis is upon us. Furthermore, we are informed, as is every other customer obtaining oil from the Middle East, that if care is not exercised respecting relations with Israel further punitive measures will be taken. I recall a speech that I made in another place in 1965 when I said that every post-war Government have put too many eggs in the oil basket; and the Government which I then supported, of the Party which I still support, are as guilty as every other post-war Government. This was done at the expense of our own indigenous fuel beneath our feet, which it is estimated will last for at least 100 years at the present rate of production. The three reasons why I thought in 1965 that we were making a mistake were these—I repeat them to your Lordships now: first, the effect on our balance of payments; second, the long, dangerous haul by sea, which was made longer still after 1965 when the Suez Canal was closed, and, lastly, but not least in importance, that politically the area from which this oil fuel came was dynamite. That has been proved during the last few months, as it was in 1967 and, before that, in 1956.
Speaking as one who has been connected with the coalmining industry I am sure I have no need to apologise for, and your Lordships will understand that I have, a coal bias. Since 1955, when contraction of the industry began, miners' leaders have been warning the country. In the light of the warnings that have been given during the past twenty years, as to the danger of fuel shortages if too great a reliance were placed on imported fuel in the form of oil, do not say that the National Union of Mineworkers is not a responsible body. I will quote just one statement—there are many more—that has been made by successive Secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers. Arthur Horner, now deceased, troubled as he was in the middle 671 'fifties about the contraction of the coal-mining industry, said this:As the oil supplying countries raise their living standards they will demand a higher price for their raw material,"—that was a prophecy that has already come true—and any Government would be advised to give priority to the only indigenous fuel we have got. Strategically I think we would be mad to let coal production fall below certain levels.So far as the coalmining industry is concerned, during the past twenty years a surgical operation has taken place. Sometimes I wonder whether the impact is fully appreciated by the nation. I should like to illustrate it by means of a few statistics. First, let us take manpower: in 1952 there were 708,000 men in the industry; in 1962 there were 551,000; in 1972 there were 281,500. At to the producing collieries, in 1952 there were 880; in 1962 there were 616, and by 1972 that figure had fallen to 289. What about output? The output in 1952 was 211 million tons; in 1962 it was 187 million tons, and in 1972 it was 109 million tons. I know that was the year of the miners' strike, but now it is about 130 million tons. What a transformation in this fuel industry in twenty years! By this process of contraction to such an extent over that period of time that I have mentioned, the immediate and the longer-term future of our nation has been jeopardised.
I recall 65 years ago when, as a pony driver in the pit, I, with others, took the ponies from the stables; we had a flame lamp of not more than a couple of candle power penetrating the darkness, and we used to sing what I suppose would be called a ditty:Coal, precious coalWhat would the world be without it?What would become of our ships on the seasOur railways, our homes and big factories.Looking back, while thinking of the present and of the last twenty years, "King Coal" has been demoted. At one time it was the only fuel that mattered, but now it looks at though we have to reverse the abdication of that monarch which has been taking place during these past twenty years.
I will conclude this part of my speech with a quotation from the then Vice- 672 President of the National Union of Mineworkers at the Trades Union Congress in 1972. I think it is important:First, we must change course before it is too late. Our union still contends that coal is still the most important source of energy that we have. What is more important, we know there are reserves which will last for more than a century at present rates of production. For the sake of Britain's economic survival and to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy, particularly oil, it is absolutely essential that a more realistic fuel policy be pursued, not only to prevent any further contraction of the industry but to expand in those virgin areas where recent explorations have proved extensive coal deposits.For twenty years the National Union of Mineworkers have opposed the policies of all Governments who have allowed the catastrophic contraction of the mining industry. The consumption of oil here in the last decade, since 1959, in meeting our energy requirements, has risen from 22 per cent. to 45.5 per cent. For the past twenty years the National Union of Mineworkers have had a responsible approach to the problem of fuel and energy in our country, taking the long view rather than the immediate advantage of what was referred to as a "cheap fuel policy". In 1960, if I may again quote, the previous Secretary of the Union said:If you carry on closing collieries and disrupting communities to make the books balance you will certainly make the figures look better, but you will be robbing future generations of the energy they are going to need. It is the future you have got to think about. If the Government squeeze this industry as they are doing, your children will have to pay the price and they won't thank you for it. We want a national fuel policy to replace the present free-for-all based upon Government assessment of the annual fuel requirements of the nation and providing for the coal industry a share of national requirements.I have spoken for longer than I had intended. I wanted to say something about the present position in the mining industry. I know my noble friend Lord Blyton has something to say about that, so I will make only two comments. With reference to the ban on overtime, it is not illegal for men to give up their leisure time to work overtime. Surely not. Speaking of obeying the law, I am not sure whether there is not ample justification for saying that the amount of overtime that is being worked in the pits at this moment is a breach of the Statute. Perhaps the Minister can tell me. Section 673 3 of the principal Act of 1908 reduces the hours of labour underground to eight, with the proviso that not more than 60 days in any calendar year shall be worked as overtime. I know a lot of people who are working long periods of overtime. I will give two examples. The first concerns a friend of mine, who for the last seven years, apart from annual holidays, has worked in the mining industry every Saturday and Sunday. I know of another man, who is a first-class mechanic with a City and Guilds Certificate, who has worked every weekend this year.
That brings me to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who spoke of wages of £60. Yes; some men are getting that amount of money. But to come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, how many hours are men working underground to get that amount of money? There is much else I should like to say, but in my humble judgment we are in a serious situation so far as energy requirements are concerned. I hope that the nettle will be grasped by placing greater emphasis on the only indigenous fuel we have at the moment, namely, coal.
My concluding words are these. If present claims continue in the mining industry, in the not too distant future we shall have not a wage crisis but a manpower crisis, because at this moment men are leaving the industry at the rate of 600 a week.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, one of the penalties of a long apprenticeship in the House of Commons is that I cannot and will not read a speech. I learned to debate. That means one has to take into consideration what has been said by previous speakers. The penalty is that one prepares a speech, and then, as speech after speech is made, one goes through the process of learning various things and one's speech alters. Many of the statistics I would have quoted have been quoted already by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield in his very able speech. Perhaps I may be permitted to come back to the main argument a little later, although I will not weary your Lordships' House by quoting the figures my noble friend has already used.
674 I must say that I was a little surprised to have my history rewritten for me by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. As might be expected from one who has been a long time in the Foreign Office, he found "the Red under the bed". Those who are responsible for the negative way of life are those who take an opposite view about the organisation of society, and we have to struggle with them. The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, reminded us of the Russian Revolution and what happened in March, 1917. He then discovered that the Resolution took place in April. It seems to me that autumn came early that year, because I have always thought that the October Revolution was the decisive factor in Russian history. But I dwell on that only because I think there is a great deal in what he said in the latter part of his speech.
He said that one of the problems of our country at present is what he was pleased to call the negative attitude. This he related to the fact that we have declined as a power in the world. What he does not seem to understand—and with his background I can forgive him for that—is that as we move away from the imperial/colonial period, people become ashamed of it. They are ashamed of the shabby, tinselly concept of imperialism so beloved by noble Lords on the other side of the House. But there is another lesson to learn in this, which is that the non-aligned countries of the world have seen through colonialism. For them it has ended.
I come now to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman. He said that we must not see energy in isolation. Of course we must not. What has happened with regard to oil will happen with other commodities. The Arab position on oil is going to be followed by crises in commodity after commodity. The days when the aristocracy in this country built their country houses and lived their pleasant lives has ended, not only for them but for all of us. I can find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, who said he felt braced by the present crisis. I do. I feel, and have always felt—perhaps it is this which makes me proud of being what I am—that when the people of this country are brought face to face with the realities of the situation, they are 675 nine-tenths on the way to solving it. What we are seeing is a Government, elected on a false prospectus, having to eat every single word, regurgitate and eat them again, of the Election promises on which they came to power. Of course, that produces a certain amount of cynicism, but it enables me to pay tribute, as I did yesterday, to the diagnostic power of Mr. Powell. In my view, he plays a role in the modern world which is equivalent to that of John the Baptist. He came out of the wilderness saying, "Repent, the day of judgement is at hand". It is at hand, for the Government and for us.
§ LORD WIGG
He may have lost his head, but I am not concerned with his end but with the truth which he spoke. The point is that Mr. Powell's diagnosis of the subject we spoke about yesterday, the diagnosis of our economic troubles, stands up; and he has not got to eat his words. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had to eat his words with little charm. He would not have eaten them if, during the course of his speech, I had not reminded him of what he had said on the earlier occasion. Lord Avebury one can dismiss, as I do, and say he is only a Liberal; you do not expect much from him. But the Prime Minister is in a different category.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves my contribution—and I am most grateful to him for giving way and for reiterating his reminder to me of what I said in 1967, six years ago—I would point out that he quoted a passage from column 1940 in which I said that so far as it was economically and socially practicable the coalmining industry should be run down. That was the sentence he quoted. He did not look at column 1942 where I said that as a planning target for the industry we should have taken 156 million tons for 1970, a target the industry would have been very happy to achieve. Does not the noble Lord realise that since I spoke the industry has declined from 400,000 employees to 250,000, a target which is much below what I was aiming at at that time?
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am sorry I did not read the whole speech; perhaps I should have learned it by heart. What I was saying was that he then, on the Floor of the House of Commons on behalf of the Liberal Party, advocated running down the coalmining industry as fast as possible; that is indisputable. What the noble Lord does not understand is that if he said "run it down as fast as possible," those were words in support of the Prime Minister, and, if I may, I want to move on to the Prime Minister's part in this business. The Prime Minister, dishonourably, only a few days ago, tried to argue—and it was half done by Lord Polwarth this afternoon, but not quite; a civil servant had obviously edited what he was going to say that the present Government had reversed a process set in motion by the Labour Government, and it was indeed the Conservatives who were putting things right. What did Mr. Heath say in 1967? He said:Men are going out of manufacturing and exporting industries and back into coalmining, which is not an exporting industry. In my opinion the closure of pits should move forward as fast as possible, and faster than it has been doing".That is what he said then. Lord Ave-bury said it in 1967, the Prime Minister said it before, and of course the process has been going on and on.
My approach to this problem is a quite simple one. I am a Socialist, without prefix or suffix, and I look at this in socialist terms. I regret that my noble friend Manny Shinwell is not here to-day because he is ill. I became his P.P.S. and helped him to tackle the problem of a rundown mining industry with a stock position of 11 million tons, and right nobly he did the task, attacked and vilified on every occasion by honourable gentlemen and noble Lords on that side of the House, some of whom were in the House of Commons then and are sitting there now. What was my noble friend's approach? He argued that coal was our only indigenous raw material and you have to move from the gold standard—we were forced off the gold standard—to a coal standard, nationalise the mines, give the miners a square deal, then move on to gas and electricity, and eventually an Act which would bring the three industries together, so that you would use coal not merely to burn in a rather shortsighted way. In fact you 677 were destroying a commodity which was capable of application in many fields. The research had then to be done, and the policy continued throughout the life of the first Labour Government.
Then, of course, it was run down. The critical point was reached in 1961 by Mr. Macmillan, a man whom this country highly honours but to whom it owes very little. He betrayed his country in the field of defence by the 1957 White Paper, and he betrayed it in another way; he appointed Lord Robens of Woldingham. It is a characteristic of the Right Wing of all Governments of all countries that they always find their leaders in the dustbin of the Left. They could not find a Tory to do their dirty work for them, to run the industry down. Lord Robens was fetched in to do the job and the coal industry was run down. I remember arguing with one of its economic survivors and saying, "You do this and you will live to regret it, because if you run it down and you make a mistake, you will only discover it at the trough, when you are somewhere near the bottom; and when Humpty Dumpty came off the wall, all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men are not going to put Humpty Dumpty together again".
It is true, as Lord Taylor said, that there are coal reserves in this country that would last us 100 years, but we have run out of miners. Why are the Government in conflict now? Because the miners are being forced to work overtime on a scale which shows what the shortage in the industry must be. What the Government now ought to do in the face of this shortage is to admit it to the miners and say, "Yes, you have got us over a barrel", in the same way as the seamen had the Labour Government over a barrel in the previous Labour Administration, or they could have put us over the barrel and could have put the country over a barrel in 1945 and 1946, when they were Communist led. Let it be noted that they are Communist led to-day. Here I want to turn to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who very kindly expressed his regret that he would have to leave. The point was half made again by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth.
Let us take a look at the record of the Communists in the mining industry. I remember Grimethorpe. What was the 678 issue at Grimethorpe, the first crisis after the war? There had been great expenditure on mechanisation at Grimethorpe, and the chaps in the pit thought that if you mechanised it meant they had done their stint and they could come out of the pit, which really meant that you were mechanising in order to give them something. In other words, there had not been sufficient education of the miners in the social and economic consequences of mechanisation, and they had to be faced. There was a dispute which would have been as disastrous to the country as disputes to-day are. Who went down and faced them? Needless to say, my right honourable friend the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. Who went with him? Arthur Horner. And I went to meeting after meeting in that Yorkshire coalfield, and Arthur Horner stood his corner at every stage.
Let me quote some of the things said by the man who has been vilified to-day. Let me hasten to add that I do not carry a Communist card in my hip pocket, but I want to speak the truth, because the truth is the only antedote to the country's problems. Arthur Horner in 1955 said:We say the cheapest form of investment in power in this country is to invest in coal, and this means investing in men as well as machinery ".In 1959 he said:As the oil-supply countries raise their living standards, they will demand a higher price for their raw material…. Any Government would be advised to give priority to the only indigenous fuel we have got. Strategically I think we would be mad to let coal production fall below certain levels.One could go on quoting from Arthur Horner, quoting from Will Paynter, quoting from Lawrence Daly. These men and other men I could quote are as loyal to society and to the class of which they are a part as any single one of us. But what they know—and again I could quote—is that the Party opposite are nearer to the oil barons, nearer to the sources that would make vast sums out of other men's labour, than they should be, with the result that the policies that are followed are policies which serve big interests and the forces which the Conservative Party exists to serve.
The Socialist remedy here is the only remedy. The Labour Party should be following the example set by Mr. Enoch Powell in saying that the growth policy, 679 as conceived by the Government, is economic nonsense. We cannot promote inflation with one hand, and then seek to stop it with the other; this is a piece of economic nonsense which can only mislead.
May I turn to the question of oil? I have no doubt whatever that what I am about to say is going to cause some unpleasantness. I do not mind that. I shall even be charged with being anti-Semitic. I do not mind that. My record is all right, and I would even compare it in service to the Jewish people with some of the ardent Zionists in this House. But I am, above all, a British subject; and here I support to the full the Foreign Secretary and the Government in their efforts to serve the interests of this country and get a settlement in the Middle East. Let me hasten to add that our record is not clean. The record of the Foreign Office and of successive Foreign Secretaries, including Sir Alec Douglas-Home has a lot to answer for. Every single Arab nationalist from Arabi Pasha, Zaghlul Pasha, Mohammed Neguib, and Gamal Abdul Nasser, who wanted to lead the Egyptian people, has served the cause of the British people—and particularly Zaghlul in the First World War—and they found themselves either in prison or cancelled out.
The result of that policy, which stems from the Balfour Declaration, has led to the cancellation of British power in the Middle East. I regret it deeply. I am not an imperialist; I reject imperialism. I am not a colonialist; I reject colonialism. However, I spent many long years of my youth in Iraq, in the forces of occupation in Turkey, in Mosul, in Palestine, in Egypt, in the Sudan—all the unpleasant stations. I was not on a Parliamentary visit, but I spent years there; and not even as an officer but as an other rank. I learnt my knowledge of the problems of the Middle East the hard way.
The description and political analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, this afternoon of the recent Israeli/Arab conflict is right. The fact that noble Lords walked out of the House while he was speaking was completely unjustified. Let me add that he used one phrase that he would have been wiser not to use, and I would suggest to him that he takes 680 the course of withdrawing it. But his analysis was right, and the Arabs are going to see that they get justice.
Yesterday, in the course of a supplementary question (which is an inadequate way of handling the problem) I mentioned three points which to my mind would lead Ito a settlement in the Middle East. First, a settlement must be based on justice. It is no good anyone imagining—and I mean particularly the Zionists who find their Zionism urging them on to subscribe but not to return to Palestine—that you can leave generation after generation of Arabs sitting out in those Judaean hills, looking at the houses That their families built on land that their families had occupied for hundreds of years. Remember that Palestine was not liberated by the Hagganah. When British troops crossed into Sinai at Kantara before the first battle of Gaza there were not six Jewish settlements in the whole of Palestine. The power of the Ottoman Empire, from the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Marmora, to the southernmost tip of the Mediterranean, was broken by the valour of British troops. All over that vast area there are countless graves to mark the price that Britain and her sons paid for the liberty of that area. We have a right to speak up, and our countrymen should realise what is at issue. There must be justice.
One of the troubles is that the Jews have been persecuted for 2.000 years, and the persecution in the lifetime of most of us was of the most shocking and un speakable kind. But they are not persecuted any longer. They have prospered The people who are persecuted today are the Arabs. It is in Palestine under the Israelis that the Arab is treated as a second-class citizen. It is in France that the Algerian is treated as a second-class citizen.
My Lords, is The noble Lord aware that the Arabs who are to-day in Israel have helped the Israelis in the war? They have given their blood. Is he aware that even in the territories which are the so-called occupied areas there has been no attack on the Israelis?
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, forgive me for saying this, but I understand the power of the Israeli propaganda machine, and I have read the stories about the 681 Arabs giving their blood. My own sources of information are good enough for me to know that they are treated as second-class citizens. In certain areas I am quite prepared to believe that that is not so, but basically the Arabs regard themselves as second-class citizens. That is what is going to be put right.
The first point I want to make—and this is what has to be accepted; I go further, and say that the intelligent Israelis, and I would start with the Prime Minister, Mrs. Golda Meir, know this perfectly well—is that there can be no peace in the Middle East unless that first principle of justice is recognised. The noble Lord has done irreparable harm to the cause that he has espoused over the years. Nobody has done more harm to the Israeli cause than the noble Lord, because they take him at face value. I discount it. I make allowance for his enthusiasm and, if I may say so, his ignorance. The fact is that there has to be justice, and all intelligent people who know anything about it know that Israel cannot forever live on her tiptoes. Israel cannot forever live with 25 per cent. of her population mobilised if she is to survive. The problem is that nobody but the noble Lord and his friends believe that Israel is not going to survive. Of course Israel can survive, but she is a small country, and like all small countries she has to recognise how small she is; and David cannot take on Goliath every day in the week. She has to accept that her security will depend on international guarantees.
This moves me to my second point, which is the balance of forces. The Israelis have been lavishly supplied with American equipment. That has been counterbalanced to some extent by Russian equipment on the other side. But the superiority of the Phantoms is now balanced by the Sam 6. What the West has done, what successive Conservative Governments have done and the Conservative forces have done, is to prove to the Arabs the efficacy of a weapon which we refuse to use.
The noble Lord is old enough to remember the League of Nations, which was supposed to outlaw war. What were they going to depend on? My noble friend Lord Davies will remember the arguments we had in Stoke-on-Trent. If the Labour Party faced a difficult situation, they would pass a resolution to send a League 682 of Nations force or impose sanctions. We tried to impose sanctions. Is there any noble Lord who now believes, in the light of what has happened, that we could not have stopped Mussolini in Abyssinia? Is there any noble Lord who believes that we could not have stopped Hitler when he went in to the Rhineland? Of course we could, if we had had the will. But the Arabs, under force majeure, have found the will here to prove that the sanction weapon does work.
They have also done something else. They have eliminated with a stroke of the pen Israeli influence right throughout Africa, with one exception—South Africa. They have said to those black countries, the countries which have in fact broken their connections with Israel, "Yes, we will come in with you, on one condition: that when you settle this little lot you will square accounts with Rhodesia and South Africa". That is the new lesson in the modern world, and this is the lesson that the British public have got to learn—that imperialism and colonialism are finished and that what has happened with oil is going to happen to every single raw material. That is the policy of the non-aligned countries—76 of them, which met in Algeria in September. That conference was largely ignored, but it was from that conference that the power was generated that led to the decision of October. That is the lesson that we have to learn.
Now I do not want to keep the House much longer but, if I may, I should like to say a word about the current situation.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask him why he does not describe it as colonialism when, as he has just mentioned, the Arabs are in a position to dictate me foreign policy of independent African countries?
§ LORD WIGG
Really, my Lords, I shall have to organise a weekend school for the Liberals and teach them a few politics. Their ignorance is profound, and it really is frightening, because their Poujadism is popular at the moment and they do irreparable harm. But, you see, the Arabs did not use their colonialism. What they did—
§ LORD WIGG
One at a time. They did not use their power: they used the power of persuasion. Again, the noble Lord does not listen. In 1956 there were three, only three—Tito, Jawaharial Nehru and Nasser. That was not a popular doctrine, so the Zionist lobby in America moved the arm of Dulles. He wanted to believe it, and support for the Aswan Dam was cut off, just like that. The poor, ill Eden followed suit, so we got Suez. Now the three have grown. At Algiers there were 76 non-aligned countries—
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord is ducking my question, and if he will kindly answer it without any more of the childish abuse to which he is so much given I should be grateful. Will he tell me why, if the Arabs are in a position to dictate the foreign policy of independent African countries by threatening to withhold oil from them if they do not toe the line, that should not be described as colonialism?
No, it is not becoming. What the noble Lord in fact did was to proclaim himself as deliverer of Israel by suggesting that those who know Israel and her policy well—like myself, I hope—are doing an injury. Would the noble Lord say whether he agrees that the use of the blackmail of oil against the various 684 countries in the world is something of which he approves; and, if he does approve, does he not realise that that is an attack on Britain as well as it is on any other country, and is anti-British?
§ LORD WIGG
The action they have taken here by agreeing that the State of Israel must continue. They have agreed, and they have said to the Israelis, When you withdraw from those territories which you have occupied"—and they are completely on all fours with the Government in relation to Resolution 242—" "we will restore the oil cuts". That has my full and 100 per cent. support. It has my complete support.
Now I wanted, if I could, just for a moment or two, to deal with something which was said by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, on the question of oil and how it ought to be handled. He told us that he had been on the motorway and that the public at large were obeying the rules because very few cars passed him. When he came over to apologise to me for having to leave, I said, "In that case, you must have been doing a 'ton', if very few cars passed you". If noble Lords do not understand the language of the young, may I say that it means that he must have been going at 100 miles an hour. Because I was on a motorway on Saturday and Sunday and in several periods of ten minutes I was never passed by fewer than a hundred cars. I would say to the Government that one of the things they should do—and I would plead with them to do this—is to impose a speed limit on motorways of 50 miles an hour and authorise the police to prosecute. I have got an old car, but by cutting down my speed to 50 miles an hour or less the benefit to my pocket in miles per gallon was really quite extraordinary. I am therefore sure that the Government are right in saying that we should restrict our speed limits. It is perfectly clear, from the behaviour of people in and around London, particularly in the SouthEast—they behave differently in North Staffordshire—that the Government should invoke the law to protect the majority. That is the first point.
685 My second point is this. I listened to the broadcast of Mr. Walker last night. Again, I thought he spoke with extreme clarity and put his case quite strongly, but not strongly enough. He said that he did not believe there was any need for rationing. Neither do I. Again I believe that the Government's policy here is broadly right. If, in a society as complex as ours, we start to ration, we must remember the difficulties of war time and the difficulties of 1956. There were only 4 million cars then; there are 15 million now, and large areas which are not served by any transport at all. I think the Government are completely right in doing what they are doing. But what I think should happen is that Mr. Walker should speak with much greater force than in fact he has spoken.
In an earlier part of this debate I mentioned a noble Lord who, so I learned, had taken away 200 gallons of petrol in tins and had switched over from his big car to his small car. On the other side of the picture, this morning I went to see Mr. Eric Morley, whose background is similar to my own: he is an ex-Regular soldier. He is 53 years of age and the head of a very big firm. I was delighted to learn from him—he has more guts than I have, but then I have never had a Potts fracture—that he has given up his cars and uses a moped, for which I think he needs only half a gallon of petrol at a time. He told me how quickly he got to work in the morning, and he also told me that this had spread throughout his firm. So I am quite sure that if the Government would speak, and speak clearly, they would get a response. Here I join with the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing: they should use the language of people. Just explain to them that they are really behaving not only like sheep but like the Gadarene swine, because they are cutting their own throats. This needs to be said and said clearly. But now let me say a word in defence of the British public. We are served by a media—the B.B.C., the I.T.V. and the Press—who, by their handling of this problem and by exploiting every difficulty that arises, have increased the doubt and fear; and I say that beyond any shadow of doubt. I thought the "Panorama" broadcast was as near political illiteracy as anything one could find.
686 My Lords, may I turn to my Labour Party colleages. Here I go full circle on the issue about the position of the Arabs. It is perfectly clear that if Mr. Eric Varley, the spokesman for the Labour Party, had been in charge of our affairs, by this time we should have not only petrol rationing but also we should be in the same position as Holland; because Mr. Varley made a clear anti-Arab speech and one almost suspected that the brief had its origin in the Israeli Embassy. It is perfectly clear, it seems to me, that as a nation we have to face the fact that our difficulties are very great. Provided that we find that facing difficulties, facing a challenge, is a source of strength, I hope—perhaps I may use the word "pray"—that we shall surmount them. But in order to do it, as I have said so many times in this House and I almost apologise for saying it again, we must realise that there is no way out of our difficulties unless we face them ourselves and are prepared ruthlessly, in the way that Mr. Powell does, to speak out and say the truth—even if the truth involves admitting that we have been wrong on previous occasions and that the remedies we put forward are not so palatable as we should like. In the present situation, so grievous is our plight that there is no possible alternative to telling the truth and facing the consequences.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ THE EARL. OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, for some 37 minutes your Lordships have had varied and stimulating fare from one whose patriotism we never question; one to whom it is always stimulating, if also provocative, to listen, and one whose stance sometimes takes one by surprise. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will expect me to pursue the many points of interest which he raised during these 37 minutes, because the hour is already advanced.
My Lords, there are two ways of satisfying wants: either by producing more or desiring less. This is a question of values for our civilisation, and it may well be that the current exercise in restraint on petrol consumption is a healthy exercise in an otherwise selfish age. But that civilisation, selfish or not, is challenged by the OPEC monopoly. 687 One cannot help thinking of under-civilised countries with enormous energy bent on the ruin of their more highly civilised neighbours, and to that end ready to bring the Western world to its knees. My Lords, when the Vandals poured out their energy upon the declining civilisation of the Roman Empire living in license and wrapped with soft wings, the sack of Rome followed.
How can we defend ourselves and, in particular, break the OPEC monopoly? It would be tempting to follow Lord Energlyn's fascinating speech about tidal power and its harnessing to steel, iron and aluminium. On tidal power I would only hope that the Government may be inclined to look at the possibilities of Kylesku, on Eddrachillis Bay in the Assynt parish of Sutherland in Scotland. Having said that, I should like to pursue one aspect of the power picture painted by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn—the aspect of liquid transmission. When the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, so ably and interestingly introduced this debate, and we are much obliged to him, he listed some of the alternative sources of power; but, curiously enough, he did not mention natural gas, although only yesterday Dr. J. Birk, a director of B.P., produced figures at the Financial Times oil conference in London suggesting that the gas industry in Britain might well more than double the natural gas supplies currently received by the end of the decade.
The fact is that natural gas is often flared off and undeveloped for lack of incentive. Here, I must confess that I shall have to read with great care, as in any case I should wish to do, the most interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield. But he quoted United Nations figures suggesting, as I understood him, that 76 per cent. of the world's natural gas resources would run out by the end of the century. This is not the information given to me by other experts, who have suggested that potential Free World natural gas resources may well be sufficient to exceed between 20 and 30 times the current annual crude oil production of the world, and do that for many years to come, perhaps as many as thirty years. The figures I have been given are those published in the Oil and Gas Journal of December, 1972, 688 and they show that in the free world, crude oil production per annum is of the order of 2,000 million tons, while proven natural gas reserves in the free world are taken to be the equivalent of more than 1,200 million tons of crude oil a year for thirty years.
These figures may well be exaggerated, but they demand investigation. The Free World countries which have critically large proven natural gas reserves, at the present time largely undeveloped, are in the Caribbean area, with as much natural gas at the moment as would be the equivalent of 75 million tons of crude oil a year perhaps for thirty years; Algeria, where the figure is 105 and Nigeria where the figure is 40. Natural gas can be economically converted to alcohol, so my expert friends tell me and, against the ever-present danger of being engulfed by the holy glow of scientific confusion, may I say shortly this? The operation of converting natural gas to alcohol avoids the heavy capital costs of liquefaction and regasification connected with its transport as L.N.G. It avoids, or partly substitutes for, the heavy capital cost of oil refining. It avoids the inefficiency of converting naphtha to high octane. It offers an environmentally acceptable source of high octane in motor spirit and it offers cheaper transport whether by tanker or pipeline.
My Lords, such an operation, so the experts tell me, could produce alcohol from natural gas at about the overall cost of crude oil refining to acceptable environmental standards; and this would be using a source which is so abundant that it would be equivalent to current crude oil production of something like 20 to 30 times over for thirty years to come. Such an operation on a large enough scale could provide an economic alternative to OPEC crude; such an operation could, it is believed, put a downward pressure on OPEC prices and those of liquid petroleum generally.
My Lords, measurement is knowledge, and an energy policy directed to this end would need to be based on a million calculations which only the computer and a highly competent, complex mathematical model would be able to undertake. Indeed, only such a combination of mechanisms could provide the quantitative data on which long-term and critically flexible policy decisions could be based. 689 Is this something that any inter-Departmental Committee, no matter at how high a level, could master and supervise? Can one picture the D.T.I., the D.O.E., the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office putting together a Committee which would manipulate such a complex mechanism, so that Ministers could take the right political decisions based on properly balanced scientific and quantitative data? These data have to take account of tile aspects of chemistry, of the aspects of engineering, of the aspects of transport by sea and land, of the political aspects of OPEC, of the prices and costs of alternative energy sources, of new discoveries, of new environmental factors, of the effects on the balance of payments, of the effects of this or that course on our revenue accounts, to say nothing of the effects upon our security.
My Lords, measurement is knowledge. It is just such factors that the Energy Research Unit of Queen Mary College, in London, has spent five years constructing a mathematical model to measure and manage. It is worked, it is guided and criticised, supervised and overseen, by a steering committee on which the motor industry, the petroleum industry, the chemical industry, and the D.T.I.—at a very high level—are all represented. Such is the sort of prototype of an Advisory Energy Board which is still in the minds of many noble Lords in this House who have spoken already this afternoon, or who have spoken in other debates. I personally was much comforted to sense that my noble friend Lord Polwarth, who matched his excellent and well-applauded performance at the oil conference yesterday with an equally distinguished speech this afternoon, was showing an openness to the sorts of ideas that are in noble Lords' minds. One is thinking of an Advisory Board; one is thinking of a Board that can manage the assembly of mathematical models and computer data to provide the relevant quantitative data.
My Lords, predictions are notoriously difficult. As the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, himself said, they are often wrong. I also have found that the more one seeks to speak the truth the more difficult it can become to be precise. Here I seek the indulgence of the House to make an apology which I had thought of making as a personal statement, but 690 which seemed to fit naturally into the scope of this debate. I crave the indulgence of the House for the apology I now have to make. On October 25 last year your Lordships' House debated Commons Amendments to the Anglesey Pipeline Terminal Bill, and we were discussing the inclusion or exclusion of words inserted by another place to subject the burying of the pipe in question "so far as is practicable". According to Hansard of that date I said (cols. 2231–2):…I think I am in a position to say …that Shell intend absolutely that it shall be under the sea-bed.…I understand absolutely that this is the intention.…My Lords, those were my words. In the event, it was found physically almost impossible, and environmentally quite impossible, to do this very thing over about one-tenth of the distance concerned—some 365 out of 3,300 metres. I am sorry if I misled the House. What I said was said entirely in good faith. If I misled the House, it was accidental, it was inadvertent. But I did mislead the House, and I ask the House to exercise its familiar indulgence and accept my apology. I am glad both that the D.T.I. have found that Shell in fact did the right thing, and that the Technical Sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea—of the report of which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was good enough to send me a copy—thought likewise.
Having said that, my Lords, and having craved the indulgence of the House, may I come back to the main point? One thing emerges from all this: predictions are hazardous. They are much needed, none the less, in formulating an energy policy, and just as necessary if that policy has to be flexible as if it has to be rigid. A useful instrument for providing the basic data for a flexible long-term policy, one that can be varied from year to year, is a sophisticated mathematical model used under the direction of a highly sophisticated steering committee embracing civil servants, industry and the world of learning. This, in short, is the way to tackle the possibilities not only of natural gas but of other alternative fuels with a view to breaking the OPEC monopoly. This, at heart, is still the case of those of us who believe that something like an Advisory Enegry Board or Commission is desirable. I hope—and 691 having listened to my noble friend Lord Polwarth this afternoon I am encouraged in this belief—that the Government may yet grasp that whatever be the rhetoric used in advancing this cause and this case, it is a rhetoric of beneficence.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, may I have a moment before the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, addresses your Lordships? I want to say how much some of us at least appreciate the words of the noble Earl in relation to the Anglesey oil terminal pipeline. His statement in the House last year has been the cause of a good deal of misapprehension and difficulty, and quite frankly has given rise to accusations of bad faith. I think it is most gratifying that the noble Earl should have felt it desirable to make the statement in your Lordships' House. I am sure the people that have been writing to me from Anglesey and other parts of North Wales will feel very much happier now that he has acknowledged his mistake. I am sure that it was entirely in good faith that he did make a mistake.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. May I repeat now what I said on that occasion: she is always irresistible, even at this distance.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ LORD ARWYN
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, that there is a need for an advisory board in energy and that it should be established as soon as possible. My Lords, although I am originally a coalmining engineer, and as such would be expected to speak on this problem, I am sure that this subject has been adequately covered, especially by my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, and other speakers. But before I leave the subject I would recommend to Members of your Lordships' House a copy of the Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines for 1972. In that Report there is ample evidence to support the claim of the miners that they deserve extra-special treatment away above all other industries if we are to recruit for the future to what has now been admitted to be a vital key industry. The Report is factual, but it does not require any great degree of sympathy to read between the lines. The 692 few of us on this side of your Lordships' House who have actually worked in coalmines know that such Reports convey more than part of the miners' story, but they do help those who have never had such an experience to achieve a closer understanding.
I now turn to the main purpose of this speech. In view of the fact that the known reserves of oil have been assessed and reassessed many times, as well as the expansion in consumption over the next 25 years or more—both I had to calculate—I ask, what steps have been taken to investigate the use of other sources of fuel after the termination of the limited life of fossil fuels? By that I mean positive steps. Has any departmental or other investigation been made—and I am not referring to nuclear energy now—on which a report could be published? While geologists and the oil industry have been long aware of the limited supply of oil, have the Government sponsored specific research into this important question of alternative sources of energy? My question might appear impertinent, but it requires a pertinent answer. I will provide one example of the kind of research I mean. I refer to an article in the Baltimore Sunday Sun of October 21 of this year, which refers to the increased production of hydrogen in the United States. Already 60,000 cubic feet per annum has been produced for manufacturing purposes. Experiments are now being conducted to use hydrogen as a supplementary fuel and as an additive to petrol for use in cars. Some engineers have already forecast the use of hydrogen engines in planes, lorries, buses and trains by the year 2000.
My Lords, independent preliminary research work has also been carried out at Oxford. I am going to quote a relevant section of a report passed to me from G. R. Thompson of Oxford, who is engaged on research work. This report outlines a programme of research into the feasibility of the use of hydrogen for various purposes to augment or replace petrol. The report states:The maintenance of our social activities, particularly in regard to transportation, will require a medium analagous to petroleum for the distribution of energy of nuclear origin. Hydrogen seems well suited to this role. Preliminary investigations of its production from water and its combustion in small power units are promising … adequate safety in the distibution network seems technically feasible.693 My Lords, I should now like to return for a few moments to the important article in the Baltimore Sunday Sun. It refers to Jules Verne's prediction some hundred years ago that water would one day be used as a fuel furnishing an inexhaustible source of heat and light. One can ask whether or not it is safer to depend on the visionaries of science fiction to forecast our future than the academic conclusions and other negative attitudes of Governments and their establishments. It certainly seems that the United States, whether due to pressure from their scientists or the realisation that the products of research must be given priority, are deciding, as before in their history, to take immediate action to solve the problem of the sources of energy.
My Lords, because of the loosening of our ties with the United States of America following our joining the European complex, we cannot expect to benefit from the exchange of scientific knowledge as before. It is therefore our duty to realise that we are on our own, to imagine the worst, and then to take steps to avoid disaster. This turmoil could be our biggest blessing of the century if from it we can safeguard our supply of energy for the foreseeable future, and possibly further. In the meantime, we are in for a period of austerity. But, my Lords, the winter of our discontent could be a period of pregnancy, and the ideas conceived could produce results which will be a prodigy of achievement in solving our energy crisis. For instance, we have over the course of many years, and in particular in the last war, been able to face up to our problems and get over them.
Many years ago, that well-beloved Member of another place, the late Aneurin Bevan, observed that Britain was an island of coal surrounded by the sea and fish; it was a timely cognition. But the deeper import has not yet penetrated beyond the admiration for the pungency of his words. We are now at last aware of the importance of coal, and lately of North Sea oil and nuclear fission. We are as yet not aware of the importance of being surrounded by sea, although we know the value of fish as a food. We have a long coastline, and the sea can really be an inexhaustible supply of energy. No magic formula is needed; 694 only the pursuit of further research into the methods of producing hydrogen and by-products from the sea. It is now mainly a problem for mechanical engineers. It will be expensive, but the results may justify Concorde, the Channel Tunnel and perhaps even Maplin: but without an inexhaustible supply of fuel none of these projects will be justified in the light of the present turmoil. Even the hoped-for benefits from joining the Common Market could be dimmed after the foreseeable exhaustion of North Sea gas and oil. We are now attempting to safeguard the next 50 years.
I should like to suggest to the oil-producing countries of to-day that they should consider the fact that hydrogen can be used as a very important additive to their oil, and can extend the life of oil as a fuel very considerably. One could even advise the oil-producing countries to invest in the establishing of plants to produce hydrogen in Britain.
Many of us remember the problems of structuring the Mulberry Harbour, referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. Many difficulties were emphasised, until Sir Winston Churchill banged the table and ended all further discussion by an order that the harbour must be completed at a certain date. And the miracle happened. We can expect similar negative attitudes from the various known sources, and we shall have to defeat them if the production of hydrogen is to succeed, as in the end it must. I should like to see a British Prime Minister once more bang the table and declare a date for the establishment of plant to extract hydrogen from the seas, and any other means to solve this problem. I have confined myself, because the hour is already late, to one possible source of energy. There are other sources already referred to in earlier speeches. My Lords, if ever there was a time for action, it is now.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, four weeks ago to-day we had a debate on a Motion of mine which covered many of the points that have been dealt with this afternoon. 'Midst the encircling gloom, I have one bit of good news for your Lordships: I shall not inflict myself on your Lordships this evening for anything near even half the 695 time that I did on that occasion. However, there may be various repercussions from that debate which I think are somewhat relevant to this afternoon's discussion. One particular remark of mine was widely misreported—that was where I offered to tell your Lordships how my Devon neighbour made his car run on methane gas produced from manure. It was reported that I would tell anybody all over the world the secret of this. The result has been that I have had inquiries from Hawaii to New Zealand and from France to behind the Iron Curtain. I have a cutting from a New Zealand paper, the heading of which reads: "Put a Chicken in your Tank". Your Lordships may be amused to hear part of a letter sent to me by a Mr. O'Riorden, who wrote to me from the Irish Republic as follows:Would it be artificial manure or the natural droppings of animals? Perhaps you would not tell me as I am an Irishman, but I often made poteen, so you would not be talking to a real amateur. I write to you in confidence because I know you must be an honourable person.Being, of course, an honourable person, I have not mentioned his real name.
Going back to that earlier debate, I thought the Government's behaviour then was, to quote two other noble Lords who took part, rather less than gracious. In spite of the politest form of questioning by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, the noble Lords, Lord Wynne-Jones, Lord Tanlow, Lord Hoy, my noble friend Lord Kings Norton and other noble Lords, all we really got by way of answer was a scarcely disguised brush-off. Perhaps the interval of four weeks between that debate and this one initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will have given the Government time to come up with some of the answers which we did not receive on the former occasion, particularly concerning what most people have been demanding, namely, an alternative-to-oil energy policy and the establishment of a high-powered committee or commission to get on with producing just that.
The first prerequisite is to make quite sure that this commission has no representatives of the big oil companies on it. I quoted to your Lordships four weeks ago how the oil interests had blackmailed the Western Morning News into refusing 696 Mr. Harold Bates's advertisement for using methane gas for internal combustion engines. Four high-powered newspapermen have since written to me, thanking me for having said what I did. So it seems that this form of skulduggery has also been going on for some time. In to-day's Express there is another article on the subject, and in last Sunday's Telegraph a correspondent pointed out that the shale oil industry at Bathgate was closed down by a deliberate act of Government policy—in that case by levying the same tax on it as on imported oil. Who was responsible? Was it pressure from the oil companies? Remember that this was six years ago. But whatever the implications, to my mind the oil companies have a lot to answer for.
Again, I think it is criminal negligence not to have made arrangements for alternatives to oil long before now. Any Government which does not safeguard its people against blackmail by monopolistic unions is really failing in its duty. I do not care whether one talks about unions of miners, electricians, engine drivers or producers of Arab oil. They are all tarred with the same brush. I think one very important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg: that is, that the unions of other commodity makers will obviously soon be following suit. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, referred to my speech a month ago as being "imaginative". Having carefully re-read the speeches made at the time in Hansard, I have come to the conclusion that the noble Lord's description was meant to be somewhat cynical. My criticism is of the Government's complete lack of imagination. Why have they not done anything about solar energy and the linear induction motor referred to by my noble friend Lord Kings Norton? That, you may say, is futuristic. All right then: why not start now? But what about now? When I say "now" I mean why is not something done about proved energy alternatives which either the Government (via the Treasury) or the oil companies have prevented us from making use of.
To take first, methane gas: is this not easily obtainable? Why is it that our sewerage works do not make it? Does not the Ogmore plant in Essex already make it, and was not a useful model of 697 how to make it from farmyard manure on show at the Royal at Stoneleigh a few years ago? I seem to remember it could be ordered on the spot. Would it be possible to confirm to the House that attached to the model was a house and a kitchen, proving that heating and cooking could be done by means of this plant? Did the oil companies kill it? Is it not a fact that before the First World War, the noble Lord, Lord Iliffe, ran his large house and farm machinery on this system in the Cambridge Breckland? Is it not a fact that we waste a quantity of this gas every year equivalent in energy to our annual production of coal? Is it not also a fact that we could produce this gas from coal without a mine, simply by boring down to the coal seams? Did they not try this once in Russia? Yet we import it from Algeria, or get it from the North Sea at some expense. We know that our cars and trucks can run on it, and that in Australia big inter-State lorries use it, as well as Melbourne taxicabs. Enough is known now of electric cars to dispose of many of the myths about them; but as I have dealt with the matter before I shall not repeat myself now.
Over 100 years ago, another noble Lord (the noble Lord, Lord Kelvin) made known the principle of the heat pump—but anyone can look up the encyclopwdia about this. Suffice it to say that you can extract heat from running water or sewerage. It is refrigeration in reverse. Is it not a fact that the buildings of the Eastern Electricity Board in Norwich are heated in this way from the River Nene? Does not Nuffield College at Oxford get its heat in this way from a branch of the sewers that run under the College? The Palace of Westminster, and all London along the Thames, could be heated in this way. Existing radiators could be used. Why use expensive oil which is in short supply and imported, when this energy is available on our own doorstep?
I will mention only one more source of energy to-night, and that is the one which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn—hydrogen. It is the commonest of our elements; when burned it produces only water, and therefore there is no pollution. I wonder whether the noble Lord has had his attention drawn to an article which appeared in The Times 698 a couple of months ago, when reference was made to the work of Doctors Abraham and Scheiner of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. If that system works, it seems that hydrogen can be produced by using, over and over again, lithium and iodine. That means that you do not need the expensive electrolysis method we used in the past. To make the proposition even more attractive—and I am sure that the noble Lord does not need to be told—hydrogen can be easily absorbed on to plates of magnesium and released by moderate heat. Therefore, you do not need the big gas bags that were used during the First World War. Have the Government done anything about these things?
I am convinced that the ineptitude of Governments and the monopolistic greed of the big oil companies have largely got us into the state we are in to-day. Once the oil producers got together into a union, we should have seen the red light. Why should the Arabs sell us their oil? They have far too much foreign exchange as it is; they do not know what to do with it. Only three weeks ago along came an agent for a group, trying to buy, on my land, a site for caravans and holiday chalets. The agent told me that the money was coming from one of these oil companies. They offered a very handsome price. Although I did not fall for it, it indicates another way in which this oil situation is causing inflation. It seems to me that what we need is an Energy Commission possessing wide powers and adequate finance. There are many Members of your Lordships' House who could with advantage apply for membership of it—Lord Energlyn, Lord Kings Norton, Lord Wynne-Jones, to mention only three. We have the means in this country, we have the know-how. If we do not act fast, another country is going to do it, and your Lordships know what that means. If not, ask Barnes Wallis.
There is another question, perhaps somewhat irrelevant at the moment, which was not answered four weeks ago. At a time when we should be saying we are doing something about cutting down our dependence on oil, why have not the Government already announced that they are not going to build more oil-fired electricity stations, particularly the one at Plymouth? According to an article, 699 I think in the Economist, by an American called Dan Smith, it seems that the National Coal Board already have in use the type of machine to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, referred, which already practically does away with the need to have more than a couple of men underground. The article, which I think was written two years ago, more or less said, or inferred, that there would be opposition from the unions to the introduction of this machine, if that was so a couple of years ago, I would have thought, with people saying how short the industry is getting in manpower, that now would be the time to introduce this machine.
My Lords, I have only reiterated what I consider mainly unanswered questions from the debate on November 7. I should like to end with an apology to your Lordships' House. At 9.30 tomorrow morning I have an engagement of long standing some 20 miles from my home in Devon. That is over 200 miles away from here, and if I might be excused for not staying to the end of the debate I might get home at two o'clock to-morrow morning. I cannot drive more than 50 miles an hour. I have already ordered three copies of Hansard so that I might read the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, the question of our fuel requirements both now and in the future is of serious importance to this nation. We have a State of Emergency for the fifth time in five years and the Government have taken massive powers under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill. This Bill in itself is an admission that the Government and the country face an exceptionally serious crisis. We not only face an energy crisis, but we also face an economic one, which puts in danger the growth policy—the only surviving policy of the Selsdon programme upon which this Government were elected. Jobs and whole industries are in jeopardy and the balance of payments, I believe, is heading for a gigantic deficit.
It is important that we should examine the real reasons for the energy crisis and not the ones put forward as a political cover up. We face two kinds of energy problem—the short-term and the long- 700 term. The short-term problems are in electricity and coal. They will pass, as a settlement one way or the other will have to come about. They are not deep-seated, though reading the Press and listening to the television media one can forgive people for thinking that they are. The Government have deliberately distorted the whole situation for political reasons. It is the long-term energy problem that is of the utmost seriousness for the future of us all in England. It is the problem of oil which has been played down to a considerable extent, and for political reasons. The electrical engineers were first blamed and now it is the miners. The Government have deliberately tangled the long-term and the short-term problems together, as the Prime Minister did at Nelson when he referred to the combined effects of the miners' action and that of the Arab States.
The real reason for to-day's crisis is the uncertainty about oil supplies, and the Government cannot blame the miners for that. It was the engineers who were first blamed for the introduction of the Emergency Regulations, though their action had had little effect at that time. But that pretence has been given up and it is now the miners who are made the scapegoats in this confused propaganda that the people are hearing. I will be the first to admit that the miners' overtime ban will have a discernible effect, but the way the Home Secretary put the case for the Emergency Regulations made us believe that the miners were ruining the nation. He said—and this was only during the first three days of the overtime ban—that the loss in output was 20 to 25 per cent. of normal production. How he could arrive at that figure in the first day after the overtime ban, which had not yet had its effect in the pits, I cannot see. To-day we can view the situation after the third week of the overtime ban. To-day there is a 30 per cent. loss in production. I do not deny that the overtime ban is biting, and hurting, but there is no law in this land to my knowledge that can force men to work overtime if they do not want to do it. The loss is bad, but there are stocks of coal for our power stations and domestic consumers for 10 weeks even if the pits stop completely. But there is no stoppage and coal is still coming out of 701 the ground. For myself, and also for the miners, I earnestly hope that this dispute will not come to a stoppage. The situation is bad and an end to this dispute is vitally needed; but so far there is not the total disruption that the Government forecast when proclaiming their State of Emergency.
The real disruption to-day is the uncertainty of the future. What are the reasons for the miners' union declining the offer which has been made to them? The Government's propaganda is that they are refusing a 13 per cent. increase. This is not true. The Secretary of State says that a miner working unsocial hours will get an increase of more than £9 a week. How many would qualify for this? The answer is, 14,000 out of 280,000, and to get this amount these lucky men would have to go on permanent night shift—that is, to work through the night every day of their lives. I do not know what noble Lords may think, but as one who has worked night shift in the mines I know that it plays havoc with family life. All the other parts of the offer—unsocial hours, efficiency pay and all the rest—affect only 95,000 miners out of the 280,000 in any given week. Miners are leaving the industry at the rate of 600 a week. We lost 17,000 last year, and they will not be attracted back, and neither will we get recruits by telling them what they can earn by working all the unearthly hours of the night.
In a statement some 21 months ago, the Home Secretary, then the Secretary of State for Employment, on the publication of the Wilberforce Report on the last dispute, pointed out the importance of what the Report called "an adjustment factor." He said the Government accepted that, because this adjustment factor, and the miners' claim, in the words of the Report, "should be given exceptional national treatment". The Wilberforce Report pointed out the need for this adjustment factor, and it said:When a distortion of trend arises it has to be recognised as due for correction.Again, the Report, in paragraph 17, said:A serious fall has occurred in the relative position of the mine workers, when compared with those in manufacturing industries.702 Paragraph 20 of this Report stated:The fall in the ranking of coalmining pay has been quite unwarranted.This was what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said and that was what the Secretary of State accepted on behalf of the Government in his statement of February 21, 1972. What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said has not been carried out. The Wilberforce Report deplored the fall in miners' wages to below the average in the manufacturing industries and gave an award which put it right. Miners' wages to-day are below the average of the manufacturing industries. To put their wages level with manufacturing industries needs an increase of £3 a week, and to put the miners' wages back to the level which Wilberforce put them needs an increase of nearly £5 a week. Even under the N.C.B. offer, only half the miners would return to the wage level of Wilberforce, and a quarter of the men would still not be earning even the average wage in manufacturing industries. It is no wonder that there is an exodus from the mines, and that these men trained to win the coal needed for the nation are departing to earn better money in the factories.
Another piquant situation is that men are leaving the employment of the National Coal Board and going into the pits as employees of private contractors to earn twice as much as they did with the N.C.B. Can you imagine a man working in a pit for a private contractor getting twice as much as a workman working for the N.C.B. and doing the same work? Discontent is bound to arise in situations like that. Money to miners means the basic wage. Minimum wages in mines are maximum wages. There is no wages drift in the mining industry because all wages settlements are national wage settlements and there is no adjustment to them by pit bargaining. This is the reason why, in a period of statutory wage restraint, the general level of wages in the manufacturing industries has risen relative to the miners' pay, whereas in the mines a coal cutter underground cannot have a new name invented for his job to get round the Pay Code.
We are discussing an energy crisis, which I think is serious, but in facing 703 this crisis the Government are not playing fair. When it comes to oil they are ready to pay whatever is asked of them to appease the oil countries with increased prices, together with the fact that they will determine our foreign policy. If we do not agree with them in the future they will cut off the oil, as Sheikh Yamani has told us today. When it comes to coal, it is a different tune. The Government are happy to accept the dictates of the oil producers, but when it comes to coal the Government as consumers insist on dictating to the producers. The Press and the Government have been agitating that the miners should have a ballot on the offer. If a ballot is the cure, the Government have no need to wait for the miners to organise one. They can do it themselves. Their Industrial Relations Act was introduced to bring about peace and tranquility to industry, but it has proved otherwise, as we said when the Bill was before this House. Nevertheless, in Section 141 the Act says:Where it appears to the Secretary of State that, in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute or strike, or any irregular industrial action short of a strike has begun or is likely to begin, the Secretary of State may apply to the industrial court for an order requiring a ballot to be taken.We are not wanting a ballot; it is the Government side who are clamouring for it. Why do not the Government use the powers they possess. Is it because they saw the hopelessness of the ballot they took among the railwaymen? If the Minister will not do his own job he cannot expect the miners' union to do it for him. Again, the miners do not want from the Government lessons on democracy.
The miners have been consulted extensively on the issues. The claim came from its National Conference. The claim was made and the National Conference was recalled. The matter was sent back to the pits and the branches voted unanimously for an overtime ban. This dispute can be settled only by reason on both sides. The Government should give greater leeway for constructive negotiations. The Home Secretary gave his blessing within Phase 3 which met the requirements of the firemen. As champion of the adjusting factor I have talked about, the Home Secretary can advise the Cabinet on how to do the 704 same for miners. That way a settlement can be reached which will stop miners leaving the mines, ensure Britain the supplies of fuel she needs and allow the progress to go on between the N.U.M. and the N.C.B. that they were making before this unnecessary dispute arose. We have seen in these past few weeks the Press attempting to create public prejudice against them. They say that the miners are defying the law or engaged in breaking the law.
Then, there has been no breach of the law by the miners' union. Under the Counter-Inflation Act, as the House knows, the procedure is that the Government set up a Pay Board. Parliament has approved a Price and Pay Code and that Code has no legal authority. Legal authority arises only if a restriction order on remuneration is made by the Pay Board on a proposed settlement. In the miners' case there is no proposed settlement by the Pay Board and no order against any settlement has been made by the Pay Board. Even if there were an order against a settlement and the miners' union disregarded it, it is only the Attorney General who could give authority to proceed against the union, and he also has power to override the Pay Board at any time he likes. It is apparent, therefore, that there is no ground at all for saying that the miners are engaged in breaking the law, or threatening to break the law. All they are doing is to engage in negotiations in support of a claim which they consider to be a justifiable one.
I ask the Ministers on the Front Bench: What law are the miners breaking? What sections of which Act are being broken? What order of the Pay Board are the miners refusing to accept, or trying to overturn? Why is the Attorney General not making an order to release action in the courts? Has the National Coal Board, under Section 33 of the Industrial Relations Act, decided to bring an action against the miners because of the overtime ban? The Government cannot find an answer to these questions, because what the Government have done is to transfer political decisions on to the courts and on to the Pay Board. At the same time, they are trying to pretend they can draw from the courts legal authority for what is really political propaganda. This form of deliberate confusion is 705 designed to build up for the Government a good position in public opinion.
Another ridiculous posture of the Government is that the overtime ban is a threat to the Constitution and Parliament. We are asked to believe that miners, who are getting out of mining at the rate of 600 a week because they can get better and cleaner jobs, are threatening the Constitution, which is really nonsensical. My Lords, when this dispute is over, as it will be, there will be a coal shortage next year, not due to industrial dispute but due to wastage; and if it continues at the present rate, when all is peaceful there will not be sufficient men to get the coal. Let the Government get out of their mind that the unions are the problem. The real problem is recruiting men into the mines, and unless they are forthcoming the position will be serious. Maybe some of the fierce critics of the miners outside will volunteer and help the nation to get the coal in ensuing years. But let us face the fact that unless the Government are prepared to pay the miners enough, this problem cannot be solved. Are the Government to-day trying to make overtime compulsory? Are they saying in effect that if men do not work overtime they are undermining the Government? Well, if they think that, they will believe anything.
Then we have the threats of an Election. Was this done to frighten people? We all know as politicians that it is the Prime Minister who calls an Election. He decides when we go to the country, and I for one would welcome the chance. It would not be an Election based on bashing the trade unions or on whether the trade unions hold too much power. It would give the Conservatives an opportunity to explain what their policies have done to the people of this country. They will have to explain why the pound has lost 25 per cent. of its value; how there has been a 40 per cent. increase in food prices; a 13 per cent. bank rate; a huge balance-of-payments deficiency; rents up by 30 shillings a week under their Housing Finance Act; an 11 per cent. mortgage rate; the fantastic prices of houses; the huge reduction in house building, and our terms of entry into the Common Market which are crippling us to-day. These are the issues 706 that will be faced in an Election, not an overtime ban by the miners. Whenever in the pits an explosion takes place and men lose their lives, when men are hurled down a shaft at 60 miles an hour to eternity, when men are drowned by inrushes of water, we get sympathy and sentiment by the bucketful. But when men ask for an increase in wages to meet what Government policy has done to their wages, we are attacked right, left and centre. It is about time that this sympathy we get when a catastrophe hits the pits was translated in real terms into wages for the hazards and work the miners undertake for the nation.
As I have said, this fuel crisis is one of oil. From 1955, when the big change to oil started, miners' Members of Parliament in another place have warned both Tory and Labour Governments that years ahead a fuel crisis would arise and that, at the rate the Western World was using oil, the Arabs would conduct a conservation policy and restrict output, with higher prices, and would conserve their oil. We requested, time after time, that pit closures should be slowed down and that we should not make the economy dependent on imported fuel. We always said that the Middle East was so unstable that some day we should find ourselves in difficulty. That day has now arrived, as a result of this country's having based its economy too much on oil. I never thought, when I was Front-Bench speaker for thirteen years in the House of Commons on fuel and power matters, and gave those warnings, that the day would come when we should appease the oil countries; I never thought we should reach the stage when, to get oil, the oil countries would determine our foreign policy. Yet this has happened.
The rundown of the coal industry has gravely damaged our industrial strength. The rundown was based on too narrowly commercial a view of profits, costs and prices. At least what we said for years is now being grasped: that there was no permanent guarantee of cheap, plentiful oil. We urged for the maintenance of coal in our economy of 180 million tons a year. I remember Lord Robens, as Chairman, fighting for 200 millions in the economy; but no Government, either Tory or Labour, would listen to 707 our pleas. Even the present Prime Minister, on December 1, 1966, said:In my opinion the closure of pits should move as fast as possible, and faster than it has been doing.He made the same mistake as the Labour Government did with that advice because they closed the pits fast after that—and what has been the result? Ghost villages were created; mining stock was lost to the industry and it will never return; those who are in the pits are getting out, and they in turn are keeping their sons from going into the pit. That has been the result of the policies of the past, and it has made us so dependent upon oil, with all the consequences that we face in the future.
This oil problem loomed ahead of us long before the Arab-Israeli war. Although the issues of the Middle East war brought the oil crisis much more sharply into focus, we were bound to face a long-term policy of conservation by the Arab States. Those who have followed the policy of the OPEC countries know that this is their future policy. They intend to have their own equipment to make use of their own oil to the advantage of their own countries, and I cannot blame them for it as it is their oil. Strange as it may seem, this is a policy that I would advise our Government to operate in respect of our North Sea resources. We ought to have a policy, not of trying to get it all out in one year, or two years or three years, but of conserving it. We should not try to get it out in the shortest possible time. We should make use of our reserves to benefit our own country. No doubt there will arise problems of Britain's relationship with the Common Market. We are sitting on great coal reserves—more than the other Common Market countries. We have oil and natural gas on the Continental Shelf. We have the greatest know-how in nuclear energy and we can build up in the future a very powerful situation. It is not in the British interests, whichever Government may be in power, that because the Government took us into the Common Market, we should accept as a fact that the reserves should be regarded as European reserves. Sitting as we are on massive reserves, the national interest must be paramount as the Government consider the position of our own raw materials. It must be made clear to all 708 that our North Sea reserves are an essential national British interest and are not to be traded away for the vague idea of a united Europe. North Sea oil will be expensive, but nevertheless the reserves of oil and natural gas will be a boon to us in our balance of payments problem.
What we should now do is to get the dual-fired stations in electricity on to coal. We ought to have electrification of the railways as sharply as possible; we ought to have massive research into improving existing energy sources and towards discovering new ones, and we should also clear off the roads the great lorries carrying goods that ought to go by rail. In future years coal has to play a larger part than it has in the last 15 years. There ought to be a long-term plan to achieve an optimum level of coal production, and from where it can most effectively be produced. Coal costs nothing in foreign exchange and is mined by a body of responsible workers. In this context it is more sensible to pay miners a living wage than to pay exorbitant prices (as we shall have to do) to the oil-producing countries. We must conserve our fossil fuels until nuclear power can take over a larger share of electricity generation, late in this century or early in the next.
Facing the nation is the fact that oil is no longer abundant, and the private motorist and the road haulier will find that they will have less choice of fuel suppliers. Fuel suppliers independent of the big oil companies will find it increasingly difficult to secure any fuel to sell. Secondly, petrol and diesel fuel will be increasingly expensive. The price of crude oil has already reached levels that were not expected until 1980. Iran is today holding an oil auction which looks like realising very high prices indeed. In the future we must use every endeavour to ease our economy from its dependence on imported oil, and all those who can help in this will be benefactors to this country. Although Sheikh Yamani has told us that there is no reason to ration petrol, I ask the Government not to trust that statement too much. It is clear that the cut of 20 per cent. in Britain's normal oil needs is to stand, which means that there will be a severe shortage throughout this winter. Sheikh Yamani has made it clear that 709 Arab oil supplies will flow or falter depending upon whether we support or oppose Arab policies in the Middle East. That means that the blackmail will go on and will not be limited to the present conflict in the Middle East. The situation for the future is, that whenever or where-ever the Arabs decide their interests are threatened, the oil weapon will be used against us.
For years past the National Union of Mineworkers have warned Governments that depending on Middle East oil was treading on a slippery slope and that the day would come when we should regret it. That day is now here. We must now develop our own resources and never again rely on Arab oil. We must not leave our wellbeing in the hands of oil countries who control the oil wells. My people, the miners, need no lectures on patriotism. Our past history as miners is one of undoubted patriotism. If we had an Election and the present Government were to win again, that would not cure the malady—there would continue to be marching feet from those in the mining industry unless decent wages were paid—nor would it get fuel dug from the earth.
I say to the Government, in conclusion, that we must get the fuel industries working contentedly so that we in this country may work out a fuel policy that will save us from future crises.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ LORD KINGS NORTON
My Lords, I am sure we have all listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, with the greatest attention and respect, but noble Lords would not expect me to follow him in that very remarkable speech, except in one or two respects, namely, concerning the conservation and husbandry of our fuel resources. I rise chiefly to make a plea for what perhaps I may be permitted to call my particular kind of Energy Commission, the kind of Standing Committee which I put to your Lordships on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, on November 7. I asked then that there should be set up a Standing Committee whose chief objective should be to study the transition which will inevitably be made sooner or later from hydrocarbon fuels to alternative sources of energy. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord 710 Taylor of Mansfield, and from the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, that in some respects coal and natural gas resources are still enormous; nevertheless, they are not illimitable. At some time or other we shall have to make the great change.
I believe that at least some of our present difficulties are due to lack of imaginative planning a decade ago, and that a permanent agency, undisturbed by changes in Government, would be of the greatest value in plotting our energy course ahead. Obviously, the course would be changed from time to time. I think the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, made this point clearly. We could not plan a course which would last without change for years ahead, but the Commission could take account all the time of the trends which are influencing us. Despite the recent discoveries of new sources of oil and gas, it is not too soon to plan for the days when these fuels will be, if not exhausted, at least getting very expensive to win.
I think the forward thinking would be of two kinds. First, in the shorter term this Standing Committee which I urge upon the House should plan the much more economic use of the hydrocarbon fuels remaining to us. To-day, we use them in an appallingly wasteful manner and we must learn how to husband our resources. For example, we could economise in the energy used for domestic and industrial heating, as has been said already this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. We could carry much further than we have in the past the utilisation of the heat rejected by power stations and industrial processes. In some new housing schemes and in blocks of fiats we could use solar energy for domestic heating, using quite simple heat exchangers on the roof, as is done already in various parts of the world. We get quite enough sun for this to make a useful contribution to the energy husbandry programme. We could move towards automobile engines of smaller capacity and could well economise by encouraging light vans and commercial vehicles to copy their larger brethren in moving to diesel engines. These are just a few examples. Great savings could be made by a programme which embraced a number of small contributions. Such a policy would be designed to hold the fort, so to speak, while the great new sources of the future 711 were being harnessed and the necessary apparatus for them was being developed.
In the speech I made to your Lordships' House on November 7, I discussed some of these new sources, and I do not intend to bore your Lordships by repeating them, except in one respect. I wish to emphasise what I said about the appalling problem presented by nuclear fission as a primary source of energy. There is the appalling problem of the safe disposal of the deadly atomic wastes. Without controlled nuclear fusion, I believe it would be wrong to allow ourselves to be entirely dependent, or largely dependent, upon nuclear fission for our primary source of energy.
If we are not, what is left? The winds, the tides, the waves, the waterfalls, the heat of the earth and the heat of the sun. When one does the necessary sums against the background of the energy demands of the future on what the winds, the waves and the tides can produce, one realises, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, said, that they can make only relatively small contributions to satisfying the global demand. When one starts to spell "energ…" one is never sure whether one is going to spell "energy" or "Energlyn" because these are almost synonymous. The noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, speaks with the greatest possible authority. I entirely support and admire the vision he gave of a new South Wales using the power of the sea. But it is true, and I think he would agree, that whilst we can and must do all these things, and we must use our water power to the utmost, of all the things I mentioned the only ones that can take the place of oil, which is used on such an enormous scale, are either nuclear or solar energy. Of the two, I should prefer solar energy because it is a system which would produce no pollution and no dangerous wastes which we scarcely know what to do with.
One may say that this is looking too far into the future. I do not think it is; because the solar cell is today at the stage which nuclear fission was at 30 years ago. It is now that we should be thinking of developing and working towards what could be the salvation of the world in the year 2010 or 2020, or whatever it may be. The great inexhaustible source of the sun about which 712 I spoke to your Lordships a month ago can sustain us as far ahead as thought can reach; but we have a lot of work to do, a lot of research, a lot of development and much construction. The Energy Transition Committee, or my version, if I may say so, of the Energy Commission, which in her reply on November 7 the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said was an idea that the Government should note and consider, would advise on how solar energy should be absorbed and translated.
There are certainly several ways, some biological and some physical. A month ago I instanced the widespread use of solar cells as a means of generating electricity. Of course, that electricity would be used partly in the way we use electricity now, but some would probably be used to produce fuels for industrial and vehicular use. For example, hydrogen could be produced by the electrolysis of water. It could be burnt as a fuel in internal combustion engines with the great advantage that it would cause no pollution; it would produce only water. But a great deal of work would be necessary to devise safe conditions. I believe that another more hopeful possibility would be to combine it with carbon dioxide to make methanol, another liquid fuel which could be used in internal combustion engines with as much facility as we now use petrol.
In these few minutes I have been trying to indicate the kinds of forward thoughts which I believe the Energy Transition Committee would have if it came into being. I am not going to take up much more of your Lordships' time, but this Energy Transition Committee would show the way in which we could provide for a future without embarrassing periods such as we are now going through and without, in the longer term, experiencing acute shortages as the hydrocarbon fuels dry up. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, replies he will be able to give some hope that such a Standing Committee as I have envisaged may be created. In conclusion, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who in these debates almost always follows me, for the fact that I cannot stay to hear his speech because I have another appointment; but I hope to get back in time to hear the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, for those kind remarks from the noble Lord, I am grateful. On many occasions I have followed the noble Lord, and I am quite sure the House is all the better for the expertise in his speeches. I liked his phrase that we are now in for energy husbandry, and I will use that as a peg for my speech. I will try to take a leaf out of his book, because he was kind enough to delay the House with that excellent speech for only about 10 minutes. That is sometimes the fate of many of us; sometimes we are lucky and early in the debate, and other times, because of the extent and importance of the debate, we are lower down, and it would be unfair to delay the House too long. Consequently, I am going to omit about 80 per cent. of what I was going to say. Anyway it has been said.
I want to add this. To-day has been a teach-in again; there have been some brilliant speeches, and none more constructive and helpful than those of my two noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Blyton who have worked in the mining industry most of their lives and know what they are talking about. That is what hurt me when the Lord Chancellor, in that after-dinner speech, quite unnecessarily—I do not think he meant to be malicious; I have known him about 35 years and he goes off half cock sometimes—made reference to the miners and the mining industry and their patriotism. The villages of South Wales are full of war memorials, as well as those in Durham, Yorkshire and Fife, to miners who had to be called from the trenches in order to cut coal—war memorials of those who never will come back. We had to prevent miners going out as sappers, in World War I particularly. So let us get rid of this stupid inference that they are unpatriotic.
Let us boil the manpower problem down to a sentence: the miners have to work overtime because we have not enough miners. That is the answer, and if we stayed here three days and three nights no other answer would come. The reason is that the mining valleys of Great Britain provide fewer and fewer recruits to the mining industry. It was fascinating to listen to my noble friends Lord Energlyn and Lord Arwyn, a mining engineer and a professor of geology, who brought out the 714 possibilities of some future approach. It is worth reminding this House, when we talk about trade unions being unconstructive, that in 1972 the T.U.C. brought out an integrated national fuel policy based on the maximum use of Britain's indigenous fuels of coal, natural gas and oil. The N.U.M. demanded that such a policy should go on and they have been demanding this for years. They have put forward a short-term 20-point plan for an energy policy. No notice was taken, because of this pathetic apotheosis of growth, and this pathetic belief that we were going to get oil flowing like milk and honey as long as we lived. As A. J. P. Taylor said in the Sunday Express last Sunday, probably this is good for the world. It may be the end of the oil age.
Our transition problem, whatever we do about atomic energy, is what are we going to fill in with for the next twenty years. It will take twenty years before a reactor gets going. I have warned the House and other people, and I have spent many years trying to understand this problem of radioactive waste and effluent. One reactor produces in a year a 12 foot by 5-foot drum of radioactive waste that has to be covered in lead or concrete and sunk in the sea somewhere. On television the other night, somebody said: "Ah, that is a problem for the future; it is not ours"—silly little man! The radioactive waste affects the genetic future of mankind. It is interesting that to-day, while we are talking about this, Newport, Mon-mouthshire, has had an escape of radioactivity from an X-ray machine; the centre of Newport had to be isolated, and they talk of shielding it with a lead covering. There one sees the infancy of some of this debating, if one does not also take into account the vital biological and ethnological snags in the use of this most difficult technological weapon that we have; namely, radioactivity and the energy from the atom. It may be that next century we shall master this problem.
But our problem is in the next twenty years, and I am worried that we are not putting enough emphasis on our natural resources of, for instance, power, coal and hydro-electricity. I really believe that solar energy could make quite a contribution. I can go back to my days in South Wales, when, even as schoolboys, we were talking about the possibilities of 715 harnessing the tides. My noble friend Lord Energlyn dealt in passing with this problem of harnessing the tides in the Bristol Channel. We talked in 1932 and 1935, and way back, I can remember, in World War I, of the possibility of generating electricity from the Severn. I contend that it is absolute idiocy to talk of digging a hole from Dover to Calais to run a train through for which we do not have the energy at the present moment. Why not divert that to the Severn Bore and changing the Severn tides into electricity? In ten years we would have that supply of electricity.
I will not quote from The Times in detail, because this House is well informed, but your Lordships may have read the other day, and seen the letter by a number of firms, talking of the potential tidal power of the Severn Estuary. Our knowledge of engineering now, as compared with 1945, say these senior partners of Sir Frederick Snow and Partners, is such that the Severn Estuary could give a constant annual output of more than forty times the energy that we envisaged in 1945. Therefore, it is an immediate possibility and I would divert Government capital now to the conversion of this power. There are other parts of Britain where hydroelectric power could usefully be used, including Scotland. My noble friend Lord Blyton, in his excellent speech, talked about building no more turbines depending on oil, but rather depending on our native fuel, coal.
There is something strange happening to mankind. The trouble is that people do not seem to know why they are alive; they move around miserable, grizzling; petty little Hitlers now at petrol pumps say, "Take the cap off yourself or you will not get petrol". That is an actual incident. In the name of God, what is happening to the British people! These are not things that have made Britain's greatness. We are losing our charisma and we are losing it because of the ugly face of capitalism. I do not know what cosmetics we are going to stick on that face to change it. It is an unpleasant face, and it is infectious. I would say that in this energy crisis of the world we should hold up on growth. It is happiness people want; it is learning to live together. I hope to God we will now stop building mighty motorways 716 that destroy the possibility of agricultural production worth millions of pounds over a period of time. To go on worshipping growth when you have not the energy to maintain growth is to me fundamentally paradoxical.
The other lesson to learn is in strategy and in military affairs. If you are in such a mess as this with your energy problem, what does NATO mean; what does protection mean? The best thing we can do is look to our own moat and develop the indigenous fuels that we have. Technological society is a weak society. Technological society is fragile and vulnerable, and it is at the mercy of aggressive individuals.
I think that it was my noble friend Lord Wigg, in his excellent analysis of the problem, who had the courage to make a brave speech loaded with truth. In his speech he referred to the kind of aggressiveness that is growing in society. An underground newspaper was circulated in London not so long ago telling people how to make an atom bomb. People laughed at me twenty years ago when I said that the day will come when an atom bomb can be made out of a milk tin. But this underground newspaper that was circulated said that the best place at which to explode it would be at Charing Cross, and you would destroy not only the Houses of Parliament but elsewhere, much better than Guy Fawkes. There is something evil in this. This is because people have lost their faith: they do not believe in politicians, nor in the future destiny of this nation. Now we can remedy this situation by pulling together.
I have cut out about 80 per cent. of my speech, and this is my final contribution. I believe that the Severn Bore, and the Severn hydro-electric scheme, could light up possibly half of Britain. By using that money and Government know-how to harness those tides we could get that energy with much more speed than ever we shall get the silly old hole driven under the sea from here to France. I believe more than ever that we should open up the railways as quickly as possible in the old mining areas, because those narrow valleys cannot stand lorries running, up and down with coal as fluently and as fast as the trains used to run down to Cardiff in the old days, or to the ports in the North East of England.
717 If we do these things, as the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, said, we shall be following a policy of energy husbandry. At this moment that is vital. As I said when I opened my short speech—and I have spoken for only about 12 minutes—most things in what I call this teach-in, because that is what it has been, have been said from both sides of the House. I will not take all the controversial parts, but one point should be emphasised. It was illustrated dynamically by my noble friend Lord Wigg. Not only does this difficulty apply to oil, but if we opened our eyes we should see that it applies to fertilisers, phosphates and other precious raw materials. In many of the underprivileged parts of the world there will be a famine and a shortage of these supplies. Consequently, without too much political claptrap, we need energy and commodity conservation husbandry to face the future, and the sooner we get it the better for Britain.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, I always believe in being brief, and after so many major and weighty speeches I shall be even more brief than the noble Lord who has just spoken, who, I must say, has for him been very brief to-night. He has raised a great many interesting points. So many of the things that one would have said have already been said this evening, but I should like to speak to the immediate future. One of the problems which I foresee if we have rationing is that the oil companies will wish to deliver, or retain the right to deliver, to retailers of their choice. This action could cut out a great many private small retailers. It would put them out of business and would also inconvenience the public, because in the future there will be fewer outlets and less service all round. I hope that the Government will resist any demands by the oil companies that they should retain this right. I feel that the basis should be that of a cut-down to a percentage of the supplies that they took in the past, so that everybody gets a share of what they received in the past.
My next point is that in any crisis there are always villains of the piece. I am not discussing the major issues covered earlier, but coming down to those people who are not looking after the interests of the 718 country or of the public. Many filling stations have signs saying, "Closed, no petrol", but I happen to know that, along with some other interests, quite a number of these sites have considerable stocks of petrol. There is a considerable amount of fuel which could be used, and perhaps is being held back for a possible price increase. I appreciate that it is difficult for the Government to take action to get these stocks released now, but I hope that thought will be concentrated on ways and means of doing so.
I come on to the subject of the waste of energy. As has already been said tonight, a large proportion of domestic heating is wasted. By simple lagging or double glazing, heat losses can be considerably reduced. However, the real losses are in industry, and one of the biggest losses—although I may be corrected, and at the moment it may be uneconomic to correct this—is from those monuments to waste, the cooling towers. These are absent from round this area because the heat is used for district heating, which is one of the few places where it is used. Obviously it costs money, but the price of fuel is rising very considerably, so let us try and spend money now on encouraging district heating.
While still being very brief—I shall be the briefest speaker to-night—another point I wanted to raise concerns the encouragement of savings. Industry should be encouraged to save. If this money is found immediately in terms of grants or allowances, or in some other way, then in the very near future we could see considerable savings. For instance, a brewery in the North East has saved 10 per cent. of its fuel by putting in a computer programme to plan the deliveries of beer to their pubs. There, there was a 10 per cent. saving. Probably it could be more. In some other industries it could be even greater. It costs money to install such a programme, but it is a worth while saving. I hope that the Government can find ways of encouraging industry to spend money on this type of planning which would make for very considerable savings in the future.
Before we get to these exciting thoughts of an Energy Commission, which is very long term—when I say "very lone term ", I mean that it takes 719 time to set up a Commission and time for that Commission to become effective—we could make savings in the near future, and I think that they would be worthwhile. All that is required is a certain amount of encouragement from the Government in terms of grants.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I have no wish and no qualification to add to the very large number of admirable speeches to which we have listened on this highly technical matter. I have learned a lot from listening to them, and I hope and believe that other noble Lords have too. What I would ask your Lordships to do, at the same time as considering the technical aspects of these problems, is to turn your attention to some of the political lessons that we should draw from the present energy crisis.
There are many that we can draw, but I would put to your Lordships only two of them—the two that I think are the most important. The first is this. It has been manifest to experts, and to a certain number of non-experts, for very many years now that, whether or not there was going to be a crisis in the Middle East which would cut off our oil, there would undoubtedly be a slowing down of the amount of oil which we were going to get from our traditional suppliers. It has been manifest that, sooner or later—and it is amazing that it has been later rather than sooner—they would wake up to the fact that they were selling, in depreciating currency, a diminishing, wasting asset. and that sooner or later (and, as I say, I am surprised that it has been later) they would decide to restrict the amount that they would send us and increase their prices. That they have done, quite regardless of any Middle Eastern war or dispute of any kind.
That is something which has been known to those who study these matters for a very long time, but there has been a grave political failing—and the failing has been just as much on this side of the House as it has on the other. Our politicians, who are people upon whom we should be able to look as statesmen, have not recognised this. They have been so intent on dealing with day-to-day problems that they have been unable to raise their eyes and look ahead for five or ten years to plan the overall policy 720 of this country, whether it be for energy or whether it be for anything else. I suggest to your Lordships most forcibly that this crisis will not have been in vain if we now realise, very late in the day, that for the welfare of this country we must have at least two and preferably three senior Ministers in every Government, in each Cabinet that comes along, whose job it is, not to deal with the day-to-day problems—how to get out of the shipwreck which is impending today—but how so to plot our course that we do not run on to the rocks in ten years' time. After all, if I may use the analogy of a petrol tanker, the quarter-of-a-million-ton tanker to-day needs something like 20 miles or so in order to alter course. It is no good the captain of that tanker spending his time seeing what is under the bows of the ship: he must be looking ahead and plotting his course so that he does not run on to the rocks. We have failed to plot that course sufficiently, and so we have our captains and our senior officers running round to see how the leaks can be plugged, whether the lifeboats are in order and all the rest of it, and they are still failing to look ahead and plot a safe course for the future.
I am not blaming the Secretary of State personally at all, but it is disastrous that the Secretary of State responsible for this matter, Mr. Peter Walker, should now have to busy himself with whether power stations get a few extra hundred thousand gallons of oil or not. That is a job which can be left to the lower levels of government. He must be thinking of the wider, longer term, and he has not time to do it. So my first plea is that the lesson we should learn from this is that we must not only have a "Think tank"—that is a good idea—but that there should be senior politicians who are going to make use of that "Think tank", who will give it problems, asking what is going to happen in the various aspects of our central national life in the next decades, and then make the political decisions which will minimise any ill effects which might arise from those things and maximise the benefits we can get from them. That is the first lesson.
The second lesson is a more specific Party political one, if you like. I do not intend it to be so, but one cannot avoid it. Our energy crisis at the present time 721 is, as we all know, exacerbated by the fact that we are not getting as much coal from our own resources as we expected to and as we had every reason to think we should be getting. I will not go into the reasons for that—it has been dealt with far better than I could possibly deal with it—but I would suggest this to your Lordships. We have now, at last, moved away, albeit unwillingly on the part of certain political sections of our community, from the belief that prices (and that includes the prices for labour as well as the prices for goods) should be determined by the free play of the markets, by the market mechanism. We have said that it is the job of the Government—and as a Socialist I praise a Conservative Government for doing this —to hold the ring and to see that no section of the community is able to grow fat upon the needs, the shortages and the urgencies of the rest of the community. We have made that decision and it is good. But from the practical, political point of view it is very difficult to make such a decision easily, quietly and happily. It is a very big change and it requires an enormous amount of political skill and real statesmanship in order to bring it about in a manner which is going to be effective.
Again without taking sides in this matter at all, how can one expect any group—at the present time the miners, and shortly the railwaymen—to forgo at this time their enormous economic advantage, the use of which over the generations they have been taught by the Conservative capitalist philosophy is the right way to get on in the world, and on grounds of patriotism say, "We will not press our advantage"? How can you expect them to do that at a time when not only do they see millions being made by property developers, commodity speculators and a whole lot of other people but also the money being made by people at much lower levels—by the bricklayers' labourers being paid their £80 to £100 a week; the temporary typists, young girls fresh out of college, being paid their £40 a week? How can you expect the skilled, trained locomotive driver to say, "In the interests of the country I will get less, happily, than the typist"? How can you expect the underground coal-face miner, with all his hardships and dangers, and with 722 all his skills, to say, "I am going to take home part of the wage I should get if I was a bricklayer's labourer"?
That is the problem facing the Government to-day. It is the problem of trying to convince the most essential sections of the community, whether they be coal miners, engine drivers, doctors or teachers—the whole range of them—that we have now moved into a policy where market forces are pushed into the background and value to the community, skill, danger, unpleasantness and all sorts of other things are going to be the deciding factors in a wages policy. That, I believe, is the second lesson which we can learn from this crisis to-day. And if we learn that lesson, if we profit from it, and if the wise men among our politicians, among the whole range of society, can devote their minds to how we can avoid this sort of thing happening in future, the unpleasantness, the discomfort, the near-disaster that is facing us now, may not have been in vain.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, I agree with almost every word that the noble Lord has said in his direct and short speech. It must be maddening for a miner or any other worker who has skill and who faces danger to see men making money as easily as some people do; but what the noble Lord is really doing is making the case for Phase 3—and I am glad to have his agreement on that. There was a question to-night about the patriotism of the miners. I hope this is not being called into question by anybody. The miners, in my view, have never lacked patriotism, either in their jobs or in war, and we owe them a great debt. There is probably only one worse job than that of the coal miner at the face, and that is the job of the deck-hand on a distance-fishing trawler. I did a trip once myself, and I can only think that that is the worst job. He does not get into his own bed at night, and he is away 21 days, probably longer. It is a ghastly job, and those men and the miners deserve very high, exceptional wages.
I will not go into detail, as I have no ambition to "stir it up", but I hope that the miners, who, as I have said, are a very fine body of men, will see their way clear, through their advisers, to accept the terms which are being offered, 723 on the strict proviso that after the given period of six months they are at the top of the list when we are through this immediate emergency. Could not more be done about the pensions for these men? I do not know what their pensions are now, but when I was the Member of Parliament for Macclesfield a number of miners from the Potteries area lived in my constituency and I know that the amount of their pensions was appalling; they received pittances. The amounts are probably more now, but railwaymen and miners get poor pensions and something should be done about that.
My Lords, we have had a wide debate, and if the Government were to put a fine comb through most of the speeches they would find some good ideas on which to work. I was impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Energlen, whom I had not heard speak before. I thought it was a magnificent speech and I congratulate the noble Lord. I should like to make one suggestion; could not more be done in the way of freight-carrying by the railways? That is a point which has not been emphasised in this debate. We have immense juggernaut lorries on our roads, but our rail services are to be improved and they are pretty good now. I think we should be proud of our railway system and of the rate at which it is improving and I should like to see something done to get more freight carried by the railways.
I would willingly see the Maplin project disappear and be replaced by the provision of hydro-electric stations. We cannot do everything in this country. We have the technological skill, but our resources are limited. As the noble Lord, Lord Energlen, said, the French have brought about a great achievement on the River Rance and the same could be done in the Bristol Channel. I was impressed by a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who talked about the price of oil as a commodity, and he referred to other commodities. I think we have to look ahead because every day the price of commodities, such as lead, zinc and tin, is going up. The peoples of the Free World have got to get their heads together to see where they stand over this matter. I am not referring to bartering or holding off supplies; I mean that we must bring some sense into the world, otherwise there will 724 be real shortages. In the weeks since the Middle East war started I have been disappointed at the lack of leadership from the Economic Community. The members have not met as they should, and I think that, now we are in the Common Market for better or worse, Britain should play a greater part in these important matters in the days ahead.
I wish, my Lords, to make one or two points about the chemical industry, with which until recently I was actively engaged over a period of twenty years. A number of problems affect this industry and almost every other industry in the country, and I am not satisfied that the matter has been properly understood or dealt with by the Government. Not only does this industry need oil as a fuel but also it needs oil as a feedstock, as the starting material from which a wide range of products are made for a number of other industries. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said he had been assured that the industry could absorb a reduction of the magnitude proposed in supplies of oil, without severe disruption, but that more than 10 per cent. would bring problems. In a subsequent announcement from the Department of Trade and Industry it was stated that the production of chemical substances derived from petroleum feedstocks was included as a "priority use", but it remained unclear what was the practical effect of this priority classification.
Chemical manufacture other than petrochemicals did not have a priority classification, even though petroleum-based materials might be used to supply energy to endothermic reactions, or to supply the latent heat needs of the process in melting, evaporation and so on. Subsequently naptha was stated not to be under control, but fuel to the napthausing part of the chemical industry apparently remains under control. Because of the low output of the industry in November a year ago, the arbitrary reference date chosen for the allocations meant a cut to 90 per cent. of supplies at that date. This, my Lords, would represent a cut of between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. of the chemical industry's present needs for petroleum fuels. Since chemical products find their way into most manufacturing industries as raw materials or operating supplies, a reduction in the chemical output would have 725 a multiplying effect over the whole manufacturing sector.
Historically, the chemical industry has a favourable export trade balance, exporting about 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of its output in 1972. I know that these views have been expressed to the Secretary of State but in my opinion there are two principles that should be observed. The first is that whatever priority it was decided to give in the national interest to petroleum-based supplies to the chemical industry, the same degree of priority should be applied to such materials, both as fuels and as feedstocks, and it should apply to the total chemical industry and not simply to that part which uses petroleum-based feedstocks as raw material. Secondly, if it was necessary to make cuts in the feed material, this should be done in such a way that the chemical industry would not be put in the position of being a bottleneck in production for the many industries downstream which depend on the chemical industry for their supplies or raw materials.
There is one other point I wish to make, my Lords. I am told that P.V.C., which usually sells at about £150 a ton, has been exported at £400 a ton. It is a worthy achievement that exports of that magnitude are being obtained, but our manufacturing industry is having to import the same material at something like £500 a ton. I hope that we shall not overdo exports of material which is needed by manufacturers in this country. I do not think that the technicalities of the chemical industry are fully understood by the Minister. It is not like engineering. It is a comparatively new industry and I hope that these points will be examined.
Many noble Lords have said to-day that we are going through a crisis, and undoubtedly we are. But it is a challenge. I believe that if the Government will put responsible Ministers who are effective on television—not many of them are—to explain exactly what is the position almost from day to day, and if they explain in a language which the average individual can understand, I think that they will get a response from the public. The British people will never fail you if they are given the facts and if they do not have the wool pulled over 726 their eyes. I beg of the Government to do this, and I am sure that they will get a response, and much good may come out of this crisis in the long run.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, more. I only doubt whether the Government would want, 18 months before the Election, to put the whole situation frankly before the British people. I doubt it very much, and we shall see which of us is right. May I for once congratulate my Front Bench in their astuteness in picking this theme of debate on this Wednesday. We have had three previous debates on this subject, so they must have learned quite a lot about it. Nevertheless, they were so astute as to know that we shall be sitting until nine o'clock in the evening, Lord after Lord spouting the most admirable sentiments.
§ LORD BALOGH
I hope also, you see, that in future statements from the Front Bench will be more in tune with that of the Party. The problem is really one of short-term and long-term. In the short-term, of course, we can do very little. We have, on the whole, relied on things going very much as they were going. We have relied very much on getting the raw materials 3 or 4 or 5 or 10 per cent. higher than the year before, and we are now jolted out of this position. In a way I think we ought to be very grateful to the Arab Sheikhs, and various other potentates, for having jolted us out because it could have been done at a very much worse time for this country, though bad the position is. I think that here I have to join with the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, in hoping that the Government will take very good care so to ration feed stock, petroleum and raw materials as not to cause unemployment. This, in the short term, is the optimum way of dealing with the matter. It seems to me that it is unfortunate that the consumer interest is now intruding, as it has to intrude in a democratic country, 18 months before the Election, and I hope that the Government will as much as possible disregard the consumer and put the emphasis of 727 their policy upon the producer. In that case, I think we shall be able to weather the crisis without very much unemployment, and without a real setback in our production process, apart from the possibility that we might have a crisis of a financial character of which we cannot talk to-day.
In the longer run, I think what is absolutely essential is to get our raw material supply much more firmly under control than we have had it in the last decade or so. It seems to me that we have been far too ready to accept calculations of an economic character—my colleagues and myself are very much to blame for this—in deciding the policy of the country. It seems to me that it is very much more important than we had realised, in the new conditions where the small countries seem to have a power of compelling large countries, relying on the dutifulness and reasonableness and fairness of these countries.
It seems to me that we shall have to have a substitution of coal for oil, and probably hydrogen. I think we shall have to do our utmost to get the last penny out of the North Sea in order to be able to carry this through. I beg the Government to think again. They have begun to think again, but I think they will have to look very much more into the sort of problems which I have, through the luck of the draw, been able to draw to your Lordships' attention.
It is in this context that I want to refer, for just a minute, to the mining problem. There is no question that mining is a dangerous and exceptional industry. I think, on the whole, one ought to be able to work out some sort of satisfactory settlement with the miners. It is a regrettable fact that the present Phase 3 legislation, from this point of view, is very much more crude and primitive and unsatisfactory than was the White Paper issued by Sir Stafford Cripps when he imposed a freeze on wages, because one of the special exceptions in that Paper was that there was a shortage of manpower in an essential industry. This exception has not been mentioned in any of the recent declarations by the Government. I entreat the Government to look very closely at this point again. On the other hand, of course, there is no doubt that any exception would shake the incomes 728 policy and, therefore, could be negotiated only if the general run of trade unions would accept the special case as a special case. Here I should like to entreat the trade unions, with whom I feel great solidarity, to be reasonable, so as not to give any possible interpretation of their attitude as one which is contrary to national interests. My Lords, we have had a very long debate. I had a bet with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that I would sit down earlier than he did, and I do that very thing.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, we can be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for bringing forward this debate at this particular time. His Motion, couched as it is in terms that do not intend to confine discussion either to domestic or international considerations, but which permit of both, and the crisis being such as to justify either, I shall take the option of speaking almost exclusively about certain international and political consideration.
The events which have succeeded each other with such bewildering rapidity over the last two months mark a milestone in our lifetime. Fundamental changes in the distribution of wealth and power, not simply locally, but internationally, have been demonstrated and accentuated. Big question marks hang equally over the future of those countries from whom this wealth and power has been taken, those to whom it has gone, and others—for example, the developing countries—who are not directly involved. Within our own democratic capitalistic system we have been made starkly aware of our weakness; namely, that we depend for our raw materials on sources which we can no longer control, but which others can now in combination control, as a result both of their own political development and of rising world consumption. For the first time we have had to face the possibility of forgoing improvements in our own economic wealth, with uncertainty over when this trend to which we have been used, and which is built into so many of our social policies, can be resumed.
Like other noble Lords, I am sure that some of the consequences will be beneficial. Internationally, aside from the profound changes that have occurred 729 and the eventually new patterns of co-operation between countries of greatly different experience that will need to follow, this crisis should have, and I believe in the end will have, a powerful positive effect on the integration of Europe. I have reservations about a single aspect of our short-term policy in this respect which I shall enter into more fully in a moment. But the need and urgency for Europe to integrate its policies, its resources and its decision-taking procedures could not have been more strongly demonstrated.
Secondly, our societies have not hitherto tackled as seriously as they might, and as they will have to, the problem of the scarcity of resources, including the waste of resources, within the competitive capitalistic system. I do not think it will be seriously disputed that a political organisation that has enabled the major sources of oil to be controlled at the present time, and enabled demands to be made of us in return for its continued supply, has acted simply from an economic point of view as a foretaste of what our experience would in any case have become in a world in which consumption continually rises, but resources are finite. By bringing this matter from the domain of the prophet into the painful arena of public experience, the chances have at once been improved both for the better internal adaptation of these societies to the possibilities and the expectation of scarcity, and for the international collaboration of all fronts without which such adaptation cannot proceed very far, or achieve very much.
I must confess that I am disturbed by one aspect of the current crisis, and that is the matter of the continued embargo on Holland and the fact that other member-States of the Community, in particular Britain and France, have not pledged to assist her with oil supplies. Many people have taken this up in the recent period as a question of principle, and I should like to look at it a little more closely. Perhaps I should say that I have myself long-standing connections with Holland, and my family at home is there—but this is not why I am intervening. The observations and arguments I shall use derive from considerations of the interest of the Community as a whole, including this country, and they would 730 apply whichever member-State found herself now in the position of Holland. It seems to me inconceivable that the member-States of the Community could, beyond a certain point, allow another of their members to suffer serious hardship—and I am thinking in terms of loss of production and employment—from which they did not suffer or from which they suffered much less acutely, and which they could alleviate by a change of policy, albeit undertaken at a certain risk. In such circumstances, how would it be possible for us, for example, to ask for support and, still less, to expect the support of such a member-State or of other member-States for measures of a longer-term character which we wanted the Community to adopt? Indeed, to permit such a situation to arise would be incompatible with the maintenance of the policy of establishing a European Union, and since I have no doubt that this Government are sincerely committed to such a policy we must conclude that in the end we and other member-States of the Community will in fact give Holland assistance if this present oil embargo is maintained.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could enlighten me on one point? Holland, we know, is in trouble with the Arabs because they made a pro-Israeli statement at the beginning of the War. Does the noble Lord know whether the Dutch Government cleared that statement through the political co-operation machinery of the European Community? I asked this question of our own Government the other day, but they did not answer it, and I can understand the reasons for their reticence.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, I am not sure that I can answer that question, but I was going to come on to deal with the general point the noble Lord has raised in a moment or two. The question therefore arises: should this be made clear sooner rather than later? At the present time, it seems to me quite plain that the Dutch Government and people do not feel they have had the assurance they need that the rest of Europe will not allow their country to suffer worse than themselves. It is not a convincing argument to say that now there is no evidence that she is suffering worse because the Dutch (and everyone 731 else) know that she is facing a particular danger. If Holland began to suffer more severely than the rest of us, or even if she feared she was about to—and we are in a siutation in which events within as well as outside Europe can move quickly, and populations can suddenly become afraid for their future and angry even with their friends—if she then started to retaliate, or even seriously threatened to do so, if she used her veto in the Council, if she threatened not to supply the natural gas she is contracted to supply to other member-States, then we should have lost considerable advantage in having to give the assurances or the assistance in those circumstances rather than in these. Therefore the deterioration in the political climate of Europe, and the damage to Europe's reputation which could by then have occurred, would be unpleasant to experience and would take time to rectify. It is worth remembering that the risk then of provoking the Arab countries could be the same as it is now.
The problem of assuring assistance is not primarily one, other things being equal, of accepting additional sacrifices ourselves. Given the very much larger consumption of oil in this country, a relatively small percentage of our consumption is equivalent to a relatively large percentage for Holland. In addition, of course, the burden could be spread between member-States. The risk of acting is the provocation of a similar embargo for the rest of Europe, despite the fact that the Arab countries insist that they do not wish to cause serious damage to Europe, and despite the fact that it is almost certainly not in their interests to do so.
The demand of the Arab countries is in fact unrealistic; they are ignoring a political fact. The Community exists and we cannot agree to ignore it. It would be much as if we announced that we intended to bring the State of Wyoming to its knees and forbade the other States of the Union to interfere. It is not a sustainable policy. There are some demands which simply, because of their character, cannot be met. There have been changes in Europe as well as in the Middle East and both groups of countries need to be party to the processes of re-education.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the State of Wyoming is unlikely to make a statement of its own about the Middle East war?
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, does not express the views of this side of the House.
§ LORD REAY
I will nevertheless attempt to give him an answer. Certainly I do not think that the solidarity shown by member States towards the Dutch in this situation would imply any support for their previous national policies. The embargo that was applied specifically to Holland arose out of a situation where member States still had their own independent national policies. Since the adoption of the common E.E.C. statement on this question, to which the Dutch subscribe, this situation no longer exists.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, does the noble Lord not realise the tremendous political risks that are involved in the policy he advocates? Does he not realise that the Economic Union—that is to say, the Common Market—is not exactly popular in this country, and I would go so far as to say it loses its popularity every day? A great deal of the mess this country is in is because, without the consent of the British people, they have been frog-marched into a political undertaking of which they do not approve. If they were now asked to pay the economic price on behalf of Holland, might there not be a threat which would shake us to our very roots?
§ LORD REAY
The noble Lord is taking the question rather wide. I agree that certainly there are risks in the action I am recommending, and indeed it is the existence of these risks which has presumably resulted in no action beng taken. I think there are quite serious risks in our not taking action of this sort. I believe it is a situation in which we need the courage to act, and that means to make it plain—and I mean publicly plain—that we cannot refuse to supply a member State of the Community; and I do not believe that we should postpone any longer an acknowledgement of our obligation to a member State.
My Lords, I have dealt with this problem at some length because it is a problem of a unique character since we joined the Community. All other matters 733 involving differences in national interests have been able to be discussed, and then to be discussed again in a stable background where the deadlines have been set by agreement. In this case the volatility and potential severity of the economic movement and of the emotions in the situation make it unsafe, I believe, for us to rely on the private processes of diplomacy; nor is it enough to leave the matter of redistribution to the covert activity of the oil companies. I believe it is a question of principle and that we need to assert the indivisibility of Europe.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, this has been a really remarkable debate. It has been an important one and an authoritative one, and I feel it is one which will be read carefully not only in Government circles but in other places as well. The outstanding feature of this debate is that the situation has been treated not so much as a crisis, rather as a challenge. I am sure that this is right. Crisis has more than one meaning and, among other things, it means a time for determining things. We are at the moment at a point in our history when we have to take a careful look at our future and revise our direction in view of the entirely new situation with which we have been faced in recent months. I should not like to pick out any particular speech, but one of the features of the early speeches was that they almost all dealt with one of the means which we might choose to guide and study our policy for the future. There are a number of noble Lords who have spoken about this: the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in a very well-informed speech; the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Gore-Booth; and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who I see is still with us. It is really to study ways of conserving existing energy resources and new ways of meeting our energy needs. I noted particularly that there is now no question, as there was before, of an Energy Commission which would have executive powers. It is generally recognised that this would be very difficult, because it would interpose another body between the Government and the energy industries and so would inevitably complicate the lines of responsibility.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
What we have to do, among other things, is to deal with the approval of investment plans of nationalised industries, and it is very difficult to divorce this from Government responsibility and decision. Yet the fact remains that decisions in this field are of crucial importance for energy policy, and if we were serious about making an Energy Commission a truly executive body, we would face great difficulties in decision making. There is general agreement about this now and, to that extent, we have made a step forward, which I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, welcomes.
The suggestion that we have been considering to-day is an advisory body—call it what you will, an agency, a transition commission—which would not actually take decisions but which would bring together expertise, perhaps carry out research and certainly advise the Government on energy policy generally. There is a strong argument against this, in that it would in each and every respect duplicate facilities which are already available to the Government. There is a lot of expertise in Departments now. If we want advice from outside it is always open to us to ask for it. Where we need it we already ask for it, as, for example, the creation and appointment of the Nuclear Power Advisory Board indicates. As regards research, a great deal goes on in nationalised industries and in the private sector now. If the Government want to back research they can and do so now. On the face of it, we still feel there is no need for the creation of yet another body to do what is already being done.
One of the crucial points is that any body of this sort which was going to advise would have to take the very widest considerations into account and would have to have the widest possible access to information of all kinds, much of it treated as within Government. I note the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, when he said that you cannot deal with energy in isolation He had in mind, I think, the wider political considerations.
My noble friend Lord Lauderdale said that the prototype for the advisory board lay in Queen Mary College. But they have already taken these steps; their assistance is available to us. I quite 735 understand the value of the mathematical models, and the rest. So I cannot hold out hope at the present time of a decision to set up such a Commission, but of course it is always foolish to close any doors, and this is the sort of matter that we shall continue to look at.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask one question on this subject? Will he deal with the point that there would perhaps be an advantage in having the top people in the different energy industries confronting each other in such a Commission?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, this is very useful and it is the sort of thing that we have already in the nuclear power field, but it has been argued on the other side by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for example, that we should not have the heads of the nationalised industries and other bodies but that they should all be entirely independent people, independent both of the nationalised industries and of the Government.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, it is very courteous of the noble Lord to sit down for me, and I should like to say, in an entirely constructive spirit, that I am much encouraged by the noble Lord's not having shut the door on this suggestion. But surely the point is that we do not have all the heads of the different energy-producing sectors meeting together, as the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has just said; we have the nuclear board dealing with the nuclear energy and we have corresponding boards for other sectors of the industry, but we do not have them all together. I should not be at all averse to having a committee of the executive heads of the different energy sectors meeting from time to time so long as there is a strong, independent research secretariat probing into all their sectoral prejudices and darknesses, so as to get comparable costings throughout the whole field.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I understand the point, but I have been saying that this exists in Government already. The Government are in a position to service any sort of body and it does not need to be created separately outside. This is our view at the present time.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, but quite rightly the Civil Service does not publish. What I want to see is a body that will freely publish a spectrum of different interpretations.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I thoroughly understand the noble Lord's point of view, but even if we were to set up this body it might not necessarily published, just as there has been criticism of the Nuclear Power Advisory Committee and the way in which it proceeds, when it really does advise the Government confidentially. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, does not like it, but this is still one thing that could be done. Does the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, wish to ask me something?
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it is essential in the present crisis that all the heads of nationalised industries dealing with fuel and energy should get together and thresh out the position we are going to be in, and ensure that we co-ordinate our fuel and energy policies?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, there is of course constant contact all the time with the heads of nationalised industries, but whether they should sit down round the table regularly is another matter. I am afraid I cannot say at the present time whether they do or not. But that there is constant contact is the important point.
Reference has been made on several sides, including by my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, to priorities for essential industries. I can assure noble Lords that one of the aims of our contingency plans for rationing would be to ensure that vital industries and services continue to receive adequate supplies. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing also referred to cuts to garages, which he said were 60 per cent. and not just 10 per cent., but I can assure noble Lords that deliveries overall are being maintained at a rate of 10 per cent. below those of last year.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, there have been several problems, particularly in the South East. The Oil Industry Emergency Committee is operating a 737 mutual aid scheme to balance demands against available supplies, and this will deal fairly with those, including garages, who allege hardship in the allocation of supplies. There is certainly no evidence of garages withholding petrol against a possible price increase, but if any noble Lord has any particular information about that, then I will most certainly see that it is passed on to the Committee.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, would the noble Lord answer the point made by his noble friend Lord Redesdale on the question of the level at which the petrol companies are inflicting their 10 per cent. cuts?—because there is no doubt whatever there is evidence of great disquiet on this point. It seems to me it could be met quite simply if the Minister would undertake that an appeal machinery was set up so that where a garage thinks it is unfairly dealt with it appeals, not to the petrol company which does the supplying, but to his Department.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, there is no reason at all why garages, or individuals if it comes to that, who feel that they are not getting their rights should not approach the Regional Offices of the Department of Trade and Industry.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I will certainly look at them as a matter of interest. But I shall do more: I shall pass them on to people who actually carry the matter out.
The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, spoke about telling the people. I wonder whether I might spend a minute or two in giving the House some information on the general situation. The restrictions that we have placed on oil supplies are related more to the need to conserve stocks than to the immediate present stock situation taken by itself. It would not be right of course at any time to divulge our stocks, and I hope that your Lordships will be content to leave it to the Government to disclose stocks at such times and in such manner as the Government themselves judge it appropriate to do.
738 How much oil do we expect to get this month and in the coming months? This is obviously a question which has exercised the minds of many noble Lords. Noble Lords will appreciate that the decision of the Gulf oil producing countries, with the exception of Iraq, to cut the level of production in November by 25 per cent. is likely to have worldwide repercussions. It is bound to affect not only the volume but the pattern of world oil shipments. It is gratifying to have the assurance of the Saudi Arabian Oil Minister that oil supplies to the United Kingdom will be maintained at the average for the first nine months of 1973, or at the September level, whichever is the higher, and that Britain, France and Spain would be exempted from the further 5 per cent. cut in December which the Arab countries intend to make this month. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, will rest on this assurance, because we all—
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? In to-day's Press, Sheikh Yamani has said that that decision is dependent upon acceptance of their foreign policy.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, what they have done is to declare their intention to make further cuts of 5 per cent. each month after that until the Israelis withdraw from the Arab territories, and it is not clear how these will affect us, directly or indirectly. But we also have to take into account that normally our imports of oil would be higher at this time of year and that the consumption of oil has been rising. Many industrialists have pointed out that a cut of 10 per cent. based on their consumption this time last year is, in effect, a cut of much more than 10 per cent. of what deliveries would have been but for the present situation, because their needs have increased in the mean-time.
The chemical industry is a case in point. We cannot tell how soon the difficulties in the Middle East will be brought to an end. That being so, it would be imprudent to count on our having adequate oil supplies in the New Year. Our prospects of having them are adversely affected by the severe reduction in coal production, which was running at 30 per cent. below its previous 739 level last week. This may worsen if maintenance difficulties accumulate. One of the steps which the Government took was to ask the Central Electricity Generating Board to reduce their oil consumption; they did so by 30 per cent., by switching to coal. It is clear they must conserve their coal stocks and, instead of 30 per cent. of oil consumed, there will be only a 13 per cent. reduction. Noble Lords may feel it is unfortunate that after all the pressure brought to bear for coal burning to be increased in electricity generation, and after the steps which the Government took in the Coal Industry Act to make possible more coal burning, we are not able to carry out these plans at the very moment when we need most to do so, as we could have done if the normal working arrangements which have applied for so long were being applied now.
§ BARONESS LLEWELYN-DAVIES OF HASTOE
My Lords, is it not true that everyone except the Government has always known there was going to be an oil shortage this year, quite apart from the present incidents in the Middle East?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I do not think that is the case. Of course the position has been very closely watched indeed. What I am saying at the moment is that it cannot be denied that our inability to get the coal we are accustomed to getting is making the situation rather worse. As I pointed out last Monday, if we had been able to count on normal supplies of coal throughout the winter, there would have been a saving of 4¼ million tons of oil, a very useful contribution in the present energy crisis. These are facts one cannot avoid.
The decision of the Arab oil-producing States to limit their production appears to stem from considerations other than the Middle East conflict alone. Their exports of oil bring them in more money than they can use. In consequence, they are building up very considerable financial surpluses. Unless these can be used in ways regarded as satisfactory to those countries, they will have little incentive to increase production to meet the growing needs of the West after the present crisis. It follows that the Governments of the oil-producing and the oil-consuming countries will need to co-operate to ensure that the surpluses are not only used for 740 the development of the producing countries, but for safe and profitable investment elsewhere as well. But the first consideration will be the development of the producing countries themselves. This is an important matter because it is a matter of statesmanship and co-operation. This is one of the things we look forward to in the future.
I would like now to say a word or two about the development of existing resources. I do not think I need say much about the development of North Sea oil because we have covered this so fully in the past, and not a great deal really has been said about it in the debate. However, I have been asked about nuclear power. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot possibly anticipate the decisions that have to be taken in the next few months. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, to what he called the appalling problem of nuclear fission. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, also said a good deal about this. On the other hand, I think it is right to recall the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, that no subject had been treated with greater responsibility by scientists. As for the safety of the various reactor systems being examined at present, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are keeping in close contact with the work on the safety of these reactors which is being carried out not only in the United States of America but in other major countries, such as Germany, which have adopted the system of the light water reactor. I can assure noble Lords that unless the Secretary of State is fully satisfied about the safety aspects of a particular reactor system, then that reactor system will not be introduced here.
I take note of what has been said about carrying on with what is called the Magnox system. Everything that has been said on this subject today will of course be taken into account when the Government are making up their mind. I have already mentioned the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the advice of the Nuclear Power Advisory Board being kept confidential, but my right honourable friend has made it clear that when his decision on thermal reactor choice is announced, the detailed base on which he comes to his decision will also be made available, as it was on the 741 previous occasion. It seems to me that this fully meets the noble Lord's point.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that the application of the customer/contractor arrangements to the Atomic Energy Authority are absurd. The Department of Trade and Industry's new arrangements, whereby the requirement board commissions nuclear research and development affects only non-nuclear research and development so far as the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is concerned. This is only a small proportion of the Authority's total effort.
My noble friend Lord Lauderdale has argued that we should try to break the OPEC cartel by developing the world's resources of natural gas. I am bound to say that I did not manage to register all the statistics he gave, and he may have found that there was a nought or two misplaced in some of the things he said when he came to revise his speech. There is a drawback in his line of argument, and that is that most of the areas where there is a surplus of natural gas production over consumption are in OPEC. Substantial reserves exist in the Soviet Union, in the Middle East, North and West Africa. Indonesia and Australasia, of which only Russia and Australasia are not in OPEC. The rest of the world is expected to develop into a big importer. So it is unlikely that the dependence on OPEC will decrease very much. I noted that he referred to Nigeria and the Caribbean, and we shall certainly study what he said.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that fusion research should be stepped up, and I think noble Lords may like to know what the situation is here. Up to and including 1972–73, the United Kingdom spent over £50 million on fusion research. In 1972, the fusion review panel set up under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Massey recommended three things: first of all, that the Atomic Energy Authority's fusion programme should be continued at a higher level of expenditure; that it should form part of a collaborative European venture, and that a large experimental assembly should be built at Culham. In the light of these recommendations, approval was given earlier this year to the continuation of the programme during the next three years at an annual gross expenditure rising to nearly £6 million, £17 million 742 over three years. The Authority's programme at Culham is being integrated with fusion research in other European countries and a financial contribution of £1 million to £1½ million a year will be received from the European Community. A contract of association giving formal effect to this collaboration was signed between the European Atomic Energy Community, Euratom, and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in October this year. An international team is currently assembling at Culham to consider the initial design of a large joint European experiment, and no decision has yet been taken on where the experiment will be built. I hope this is welcome news to the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.
A good deal has been said about tidal power. Possibilities do exist here: tidal barrages, such as have been suggested for the Severn Estuary. There are not many sites suitable for this kind of development in the United Kingdom, and some of them are also suitable for fresh water reservoirs, so that reduces the number still further. They could make only a very small contribution to total energy requirements, perhaps the equivalent of two or three nuclear power stations, but at very much higher cost. The Severn schemes which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, talked about have been examined but have not been found economically attractive. I believe, incidentally —and this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth—that the French do not have any proposals for building a second example of the Rennes tidal barrage.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who is so courteous. I should like to point out to the noble Lord that one should take into consideration other things apart from the economic cost. I know that we will take care with nuclear reactors, but a surgeon takes care in the operating theatre and accidents still happen. We have no pollution whatsoever with a barrage, and social benefit should be weighed against economic costs so far as barrages and the Severn bore are concerned.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I would agree, but not weighed against but along with other costs. As usual, we were all fascinated by the speech of the 743 noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, and I was particularly fascinated with what he had to say about the liquefaction of coal. While, as he said, this is technologically possible, it has not yet been mounted on a scale massive enough to be tried out commercially. A great deal of work has been, and is being, done in the United States of America, but their current view is that what is called "synth crude" will not make a significant contribution to energy problems until 1985 at the earliest. The cost would be enormous, and in any case we shall need all the coal that we can produce in the foreseeable future for conventional fuel needs.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, asked whether illegal hours are being worked in the mines. I would be surprised if illegal hours are being worked. One of the responsibilities of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines is the enforcement of statutory restrictions on working hours. The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, made one of his usual vigorous speeches. It is not a question of miners breaking the law, but rather of not adhering to what was worked out, and what they undertook to carry out, under the industry's five-day week agreement. I could not make out from what the noble Lord said whether he thought that the miners should be treated as a special case or not. Wilberforce said that they were, and look what happened to that! Had he been here, I would certainly have asked him whether he believed that the trade unions should, or could, all agree that the miners should be treated as a special case, and that the miners should be exempted from the provisions of Stage 3.
The noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, also spoke about battery car development. The obstacle to their development is not a matter of the resistance of people with vested interests in petrol engines; the simple fact is that battery cars cannot compare in performance, or range, with internal combustion engines, and the user demands both performance and range. The key to bringing in electric cars—and we must bear in mind that so long as electricity is oil-based the advantage of it is not fully achieved—is development of an improved battery. He also spoke about fuel cells, but I am told that this idea has been looked at by 744 experts and so far appears unpromising. I cannot advise noble Lords that fuel cells, of whatever kind, seem likely to make a significant contribution to fossil fuel displacement.
The Government are well aware of the importance of thermal insulation. We have been consulting interested parties, including local authorities, on the proposition that thermal insulation standards should be tightened up. The Government hope quite shortly to be introducing legislation which would enable the tightening up of standards to be taken further than under the existing Acts.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, in the meantime, could the noble Lord say whether it is possible for the Department of the Environment simply to issue a circular to local authorities saying that they will not be granted loan sanction unless they greatly improve the standards of insulation of their own dwellings, let us say by doubling the thickness of the insulation which has been adopted hitherto under the building regulations? Would not that be a simple way of improving the situation "at a stroke"?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
It seems a simple way, my Lords, and I will certainly convey it to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, in this connection may I ask the noble Lord—because he knows my interest—whether he will seriously consider the possibility of grants for existing houses? I think the calculation goes something like this: that one-third of our energy requirements are used in the home, and if you spend some £10 per home you can probably reduce the energy requirement by something like 3 per cent., which is really a very worthwhile saving. So may I ask the noble Lord to consider this suggestion seriously?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I will certainly consider it. My noble friend Lord Redesdale asked whether the oil companies will be able to put small dealers out of business if rationining is imposed. It is our intention to make sure that if it should become necessary to impose rationing the position of independent petrol distributors and retailers will continue to be safeguarded.
745 My Lords, I have done my best to answer as many as possible of the points which have been raised in this excellent debate. It was certainly timely and appropriate for the House to discuss this Motion, and I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having given us the opportunity to do so. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we are now faced with an entirely new situation, both in the present and the immediate future and also in the longer term. If the oil-producing countries husband their reserves, then we shall have a more difficult time until our own North Sea oil is in full flow, but in that case the day when natural oil reserves are exhausted will be postponed. In any case, oil is going to be more expensive, and that will put up costs both to ourselves and to our overseas suppliers and customers. That, of course, will be a challenge to further development, and it is a challenge to all of us. But our own underlying position, I think I can fairly say, is better than might be thought from our present difficulties. Nevertheles, I have no doubt that we shall not only have to make the best of what we have but also have to apply all the wisdom, all the restraint and all the ingenuity and statesmanship of which we are capable if we are to preserve and enhance our heritage for the generations to come.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek has called this a "Teach-in", and so it has been. It has certainly been a long "Teach-in". Excluding the Minister who has just wound up—because we always interrupt Ministers who are winding up so much that it is not fair to say that they take too long—there have been no fewer than five Back-Bench speeches lasting half an hour or more. I think this may be something which we shall want to watch in future. But I am convinced that it has been a good "Teach-in" and a constructive one. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.