HL Deb 07 November 1973 vol 346 cc365-466

3.20 p.m.

LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH rose to call attention to the impending world shortage of oil and its implications for road transport and road construction; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper I feel that I should explain that its putting down was the result of an Answer given by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to a supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, to a Question of mine on July 18 last on the possible production of electric cars. The Answer was that we had 35 years of oil left. The full impact of that Answer did not hit me until the next day as, being deaf, I did not hear the exact number of years. Therefore I put down this Motion. The original Question I put down at the end of June; and I feel that what has happened in the last three months only goes to emphasise my arguments to-day. If 35 years is the correct answer—and I do not say that I agree with it—what are the implications? Why the expensive third London airport, the motorways, the by-passes, the millions spent on the car and the truck—unless we find an alternative very quickly or go back to the horse and cavalry charge?

I should like to deal with this subject in two parts: first, oil; and then some suggested alternative energy. What is the oil situation? Is it as bad as it is painted? What is the world picture? What is our own picture? It seems to me to begin with that we are comparatively small fry between the Arab world and the U.S.A., and that if we do not play our cards right we in Europe may be badly hurt. I personally think the Government are playing them right at the moment; but, as everybody has just heard, this is a very tricky subject. I reckon that the Arab world have America "over a barrel" and that that was the case even before the Israeli-Arab war. The production and reserve figures show the terrifying preponderance of the Middle East and, as far as consumption is concerned, the fantastic consumption of the U.S.A. One American oil man said to me that the real trouble is that as far as oil is concerned the Americans have had too much, too cheap, for too long. The waste of energy in the burning off of natural gas in that country is a case in point.

The statistics show that the proven reserves are around the neighbourhood of 500 billion barrels. Of that, over 300 billion are in Arab hands. If America goes on using oil at the present rate she will be more and more in the hands of whoever controls the greatest reserves. This needs no underlining; but in the Middle East conflicts Russia is the main backer of the Arabs and only someone who is patently blind, I suggest, can fail to recognise the strategic implications. Oil from the Middle East to a large extent flows from the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea in two streams. One stream goes in the direction of Australasia and the Far East and the other goes around the Cape to the West. Looking at these streams on a map made me doubt the sanity of a leading Australian politician who during the last Elections said to his Party that there was no concern about the build-up of the Russian Navy in the Indian Ocean. It also emphasises the importance to the West of the Simons-town naval and air bases. For hundreds of years Russia as one of her aims has wanted to extend to a port on the Persian Gulf. For the same length of time it has been the policy of this country to deny her just that. Now that we are no longer an important (or such an important) nation America has more or less become our successor. By the same token I should hate to see the Suez Canal opened again, if only because Russia could more quickly reinforce her Indian Ocean navy.

Meanwhile, the colossal build-up of the monetary reserves of the oil-producing countries poses another economic problem for the rest of the world. The implications of that fact I shall leave to other speakers, preferably the economists. Perhaps the Government could let us know whether they have any considered opinion on that point. But before leaving the strategic implications I should like to point out that, according to information available, Russia and China are at this moment self-supporting in both reserves and production. In this connection, I wonder whether the new Siberia-to-Finland pipeline has been completed and if so whether we in Europe will be able to make much use of it.

Another factor continually pushing up the price is the increased competition for Middle East oil from Japan which gets over 80 per cent. of her oil from that area. The power for blackmail increases whichever way one looks. Before the recent increases, it cost 10 U.S. cents to produce a barrel in the Gulf. It sold for 2.50 dollars on the Gulf. Taxes, royalties and profits account for 90 cents and what one commentator calls "politics" accounts for 64 per cent. of the Gulf price. It is now much higher. But I do not call it "politics"; I refer to it as "blackmail".

Be that as it may, the Americans have been perpetrating some self-inflicted wounds. Their conservation lobby, their environmentalists, have stopped many plans for refineries; and the environmentalists' biggest success has been the holding up of the pipeline from Alaska where exists the largest home-based oil potential at the present moment for the Americans. America, as I have said, also wastes quite a lot of energy by burning off her natural gas. Added to that is their habit of having the biggest machines in the world, which increases their natural consumption. Britain, as another industrialised nation heavily dependent on oil, is just a "tagger-on" compared with the United States of America. But as we all know, recently we have had some successes in the prospecting line as North Sea oil seems to be more promising every day. We in the West Country have heard that there is a possibility off the West coast, the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. A recent trial run was abortive, but some of us have the feeling that there is oil there and that is why our canny Government are hanging on until the more difficult areas have been tapped. Is that so? If they are that canny, well and good, but I do not think they were so clever in letting the oil companies have it so cheap in the North Sea. While it was wildcat, all right; but once it was proved the Government should have got their ounce of flesh.

The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, has several times had something to say on this subject. It seems that Norway is more clever, and all the indications are that they will find, or be able to find if they so wish, much more oil further North. I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. I think he must be having a difficult time up there. One imagines the oil companies saying, "Right, if you do not do that we will go across the line into the Norwegian waters". One knows that the environmentalists up there have been holding up many prospective advances in that area. However, France is said to be expecting plenty of oil off her coasts or the approach to the Channel. So it seems perhaps, at a guess, that we could eventually have more than the 35 years, and from what I have read [would hazard a guess at 50. But what is 50 years in the history of the world or, come to that, in the life of a motorway? So whichever way one looks at the matter one has to realise that we must conserve supplies and consider what other sources of energy we can expect to use.

We could burn wood—as some of us still do, especially in the country, for heating, but in "Plant a Tree Year" this is not a national answer. Coal, if its procurement was completely mechanised, as I understand it could be, with only machines underground, could, as we know, produce a terrific amount of energy—petrol, gas, et cetera,as Germany did so efficiently in the last war. But one always feels that there is a certain amount of conservatism in the coalmining industry, and perhaps they will not come at the matter quickly enough. So far as that is concerned, the environmentalists are great opponents of the way coal residues are disposed of—the clean air lobby and so on—added to which of course blackmail is not only performed by the Arab oil-producing unions, but from time to time by other unions, and our promised long cold winter could not just be so from the shortage of oil.

Then, my Lords, there are the wastelands between oil and coal—shale, tar sands, et cetera, and, of course the various types of natural gas. Most people seem to favour some sort of nuclear power as a source of making electricity which will then be transferred, converted, to some type of vehicle. But, nuclear energy has the biggest form of environmentalist hurdle to overcome. If something goes wrong, all sorts of things can happen, and the disposal of wastes is a constant worry to the public. But eventually something, in one form or another, has to replace oil, and from what one hears and reads the future seems to be with nuclear energy. The American light water reactors are being built in Japan and Germany, but with increasing opposition from the environmentalists. Our own advanced gas-cooled reactors have, according to the reports, had production difficulties. Current thinking seems to be that by the end of the century the breeder nuclear reactor will be the main replacement for oil, plus some new source of light battery or fuel cell to drive our road transport. But the more sophisticated the nuclear energy machine the more dangerous the situation is if anything goes wrong. The Economist quoted a physicist, Dr. Lovins, as saying of the new type breeder, The core of the reactor contains not 100 odd kilograms (as in a light water reactor) but a ton of plutonium 239–a radiological poison so toxic that if properly reduced and dispersed, a ton would far more than suffice to give lung cancer to everyone on earth. From this it seems that we had better go for fusion reactors which produce few waste radioactive materials, rather like the so-called "clean bomb".

Wherever one looks for other alternatives to oil as a source of energy one comes up against the environmentalist lobby. Even coal gasification, especially in the United States, would require miles of opencast mining, and the same would apply to shale oil and tar sands. Imagine the slag heaps after the removal of 100 feet of overburden! We may further ask, what is the future of solar energy, especially in cloudy Britain, but though it smacks of science fiction there have been spectacular breakthroughs recently. Where there are large rises and falls of tides that source of energy can be tapped. Why we have not already done so on the Severn Estuary has mystified me for a long time.

My Lords, we are forced back time and time again to one fact; namely, that we are getting more and more dependent on oil, and oil is—we can argue about the time—running out. The only really large known reserves are in Arab hands, and Russia is playing and will continue to play that strategic card to the full. That oil, fortunately for the Arabs, comes mainly from the desert where there is no environmentalist lobby. Where it comes from the sea, you have that lobby. Where it comes from Alaska, you have that lobby, and, as you know, in that case it has held up production for years, the argument being that the pipeline from Alaska going across the frozen wastes will unfreeze an area on either side of the pipeline, and that will have all sorts of bad effects on plant growth and so on.

Having discussed the impending shortage of oil, what about the disadvantages? We have had raised in your Lordships' House many questions about the amount of lead in petrol—the use of platinum as a catalyst in the exhaust pipe system is what I have advocated more than once in your Lordships' House. Every confirmed cigarette smoker will tell you, with I believe some truth, that diesel fumes, especially in crowded cities, cause more lung cancer than their pet drug. Certainly no one who lives in the country can visit a big city nowadays without commenting on this. But am I not right in saying that if you remove the lead you do not get such complete combustion and therefore a blacker emission and so forth? Oil on our beaches needs no comment, whether it comes from a burst pipeline, clearing bunkers or a "Torrey Canyon". The danger of fires from more and bigger refineries and storage depots is obvious—the recent example near Slough is a case in point. And so on through that gamit.

I think your Lordships have another political fact to face. One of the basic freedoms that has come to be accepted is that of having your own personal or family transport. If Government take away that freedom I feel that they will pay the penalty. We are building hundreds of millions of pounds worth of motorways, bypasses and airports with—in the Gov-ment's own words—35 years' fuel left to run on or land on them. Unless we plan now, or have planned already I hope, for an alternative source of energy to run our transport, personal or public, then I suggest we put an immediate ban on the sale of horsemeat to the Continent and subsidise all breeders of horses, mules and donkeys.

My Lords, we must, it seems, do two things: cut down on oil consumption to conserve stocks for as long as possible, and make use of that time to develop an alternative. Anyway, a lot of good is done by cutting down on the use of oil. Petrol is a very inefficient method of using combustion. I am not a scientist, but I am informed that only 15 per cent. of its content makes the driving power; the rest is expelled as steam and pollution of one sort or another. Much less is consumed as diesel fuel, so the first step could be to go over to the diesel motor. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, has an eight-seater Mercedes diesel car which, he tells me, takes his very large family on the motorway at 80 miles an hour: and that ought to be enough for anyone. But, of course, it does not meet the requirements of the environmentalists.

The next thing is the gas adaptation to the existing engine. The late Harry Ferguson left an organisation to invest and test various engineering theories. One of their designs was a small garden tractor with four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, three-point linkage fore and aft and power take-off fore and aft. His son-in-law is a connection of mine, and I have the original prototype. The interesting thing about it is that the rights on that machine have been purchased by Calor Gas. The reason is that by fitting an adaptor to the carburetor and, of course, a gas cylinder in place of the petrol tank, there is complete combustion. The machine may be used in factories and enclosed areas where the use of petrol would be unbearable owing to the carbon wastes. The power and speed are not affected.

But, my Lords, you may say that Calor gas comes from oil. My answer to that is that it is not the only gas that will drive a conventional petrol engine so converted. In any case, it is better than wasting that gas, as they do in Texas. Mr. Harold Bate, who lives not far from me in Devon, has for years been producing an addition to the carburettor, which he sells for less than £20, to enable a car to be run on methane which he gets from chicken and pig manure in his own backyard. Mr. Bate has appeared on local television and once on B.B.C. Television, I think it was in the programme, "Tomorrow's World." On that occasion he drove his 1953 Hillman from Devon to London and back on fuel he has produced. Unfortunately I have been "pipped at the post" nationally, because the Sunday Express had this story last Sunday.

Mr. Bate claims 10 per cent. more power—that is speed—for 10 per cent. less fuel equivalent. Surely the most unimaginative among us can see the possibilities of this form of energy. If he can produce his own fuel from his own chickens, could not every council sewage works in the country run a profitable business producing methane gas; a sort of perpetual motion—or should one say motions? When Mr. Bate first tried to advertise his gadget the advertisement was forced out of the newspapers by the oil companies. The editor of the local paper was interested, and Mr. Bate put a £3 advertisement in the Western Morning News. The next day the oil companies telephoned the newspaper and said that unless the advertisement was taken out and never put in again they would cancel their advertising. That is one of the many things for which I think the oil industry has to answer.

I know that the Passenger Vehicle Operators' Association believe that there is a bit of skulduggery going on at the moment. They believe that the oil companies are artificially putting up the price. The operators can get all the diesel supplies they need from the companies which have been given a price increase, but they have been refused, or had their supply cut right back, by those companies which so far have not received a price increase from the Price Commission.

To come back to Mr. Harold Bate's methane, if we could carry out this probcess the other advantage would be that the motor industry would not have to alter its engine. One hundredweight of manure produces the equivalent of four gallons of petrol. Therefore the two million tons of pig manure which we produce in this country each year should, if my arithmetic is right, equal 140 million gallons of petrol equivalent; and that would be pollution free. My Lords, in case you want to do it in your own back garden, I will tell you all about it. You dig a hole in which you have a concrete tank. You have a non-return inlet valve and another receptacle next door to the tank. In there you put an immersion heater which is running at 80 degrees. Then you have a pipe into a water sealed tank next door to that, and there is your methane. You put it in your car in a cylinder and "Bob's your uncle!"

However, my Lords, for most people—, and this certainly had an airing in the Press recently—the alternative seems to be the electric car. This is nothing new. As long ago as 1908 there were a string of depots from the North of England to the South where a driver could swap the batteries on his electric car. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, asked a supplementary question to the Question which I asked on July 18 and underlined the importance of the electrically driven milk float. I see that 1,800 of them were built in this country in 1971. In that same year a total of 11,437 electrical industrial and road vehicles were built in this country, and 6,420 were exported. In the same year there were 45,000 electric road vehicles registered, and 75,000 electrical industrial trucks registered, so that this is nothing that is difficult; it is something already on the way. One of the best known engineering companies in this country did a survey not long ago and came to the conclusion, which seems to me absolutely astounding, that by 1980 there could, or should, be 19 million cars and vans registered, and 1½ million goods vehicles operated by electricity.

From what I have been told from a reliable source, there are in existence two types of electric car which could be quickly put into production. The first is a hybrid car with a Wankel engine. The engine would be used for charging the batteries and for driving the vehicle outside urban areas, and the driver would switch to batteries when in the urban areas. The trouble is that the Wankel engine uses a large amount of petrol and is a dirty engine from the point of view of the environmentalists. It has the advantages of the electric car only for half the time. There is also the hybrid gas adapted car.

Then there is an American product which has had 100 cars running for five years. The people responsible developed an electric propulsion system which contains three polar lead-cobalt batteries, electronic controls, a D.C. motor and chargers which, when installed in a four-or five-seater car, or a one-ton van, can give a top speed of 60 to 75 miles per hour and a range of 70 to 100 miles, depending on the traffic conditions. Batter- ies could be recharged in 45 minutes with a fast charger and in 5–6 hours overnight with a slow charger. My Lords, statistics show that 69.2 per cent. of all daily trips throughout the world are of under 50 miles. Surely this is the sort of vehicle that we could use in great quantities now. If this system were installed for vehicles in the London area, where the average speed is 6–7 miles an hour to get from point A to point B, the saving in petrol pollution and noise would be enormous. It is claimed that there is not a car, van or bus that could not be converted to this system. I am convinced of the truth of these claims about cars and vans, but I remain sceptical about buses. But we used to have trolley buses, of course, and we could return to them. Or we could use the system whereby the batteries are carried on a trailer which is swapped for another every time the bus passes the depot. For the urban car user and all those travelling less than 100 miles a day, battery charging could be at night at the cheap rates and for other vehicles it could be done by having plugs in parking meters and battery swops at garages or depots. I am told that there is already generating capacity in the London area for the night-charging idea. Some of your Lordships may have seen illustrations in journals of batteries being wheeled in and clipped on in their special forms in a couple of minutes: in other words, in less time than it takes for a refill of petrol.

My Lords, the particular electric car firm that I have been using as my example guarantees the batteries for 50,000 miles or 50 months. The operating cost of this vehicle at present prices is 1.16p per mile, which includes the pro rata depreciation of the batteries calculated over 30,000 miles or three years of operating, and they say that quantity production could start within eight months. That is one example of what is possible now. When you think of the advantages of saving foreign exchange, complete freedom from air pollution, freedom from noise, very low operating and maintenance costs, no more of what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, refers to as "blackmoil", can one wonder at the Evening Standard headline when commenting on this year's Motor Show: "Why no electric car?"

I am referring to what can be done now. As to the future—on which the Government should be working—there are exciting possibilities in such subjects as solar cells, recharging panels on the sides of cars and trucks from disseminators built into motorway crash barriers, to electric motivators under the roads themselves. I leave it to the President of the Royal Institute, my noble friend Lord Kings Norton, to enlighten your Lordships on this subject; and who better? But my informant on the proposed solar cell electric car is convinced that if the Government would provide a testing site, he would produce his car here rather than in the United States or Germany.

My Lords, it is a great pity that British Leyland have their Board meeting this afternoon, as I know my noble friend Lord Stokes would have liked to take part in this debate. If I may summarise his views from a letter that he wrote to me, they are somewhat as follows. He reckons that the energy crisis is exaggerated, mainly for political motives; that if the North Sea oilfields are as successful as we are told they are, then we should be all right in the future. He also emphasises that road vehicles use only 20 per cent. of the fuel used in this country. He makes the very good point that the Government should be checking that the refineries in this country are adequate and suitable to the type of oil that we expect to get from the North Sea. Could one of the Government's spokesmen reassure us on that score? The last point my noble friend makes is one that I was going to make after reading that the French were kicking up a row about getting our North Sea oil for Europe as a whole. My noble friend Lord Stokes puts it in this way: And of course the final question as to who is going to own the oil out of the North Sea, and whether we are going to get the benefit, or whether, as is so often the case, some foreign exporter, including the Japanese, is going to benefit from what rightly should belong to us.

My Lords, I worded my Motion as I did for the particular reason that no matter which of the so-called experts' opinions you believe about the date when the world runs out of oil, there will always be the question asked: why waste all this money on roads, motorways et cetera if you are not going to do something about an alternative? Otherwise we are back to the horse, the stage coach and the dray. Also, I believe that we need new and better roads, because the freedom of the great mass of the population to have their personal family form of transport is one that they will not wish to surrender. I started coming from Devon to your Lordships' House by car for two reasons. First, I got caught away from home by a rail strike or go-slow—another form of blackmail—and the second was when Exeter Station car park was over full I had to park in a side street, to return three days later to find my windscreen "bust".

I should have thought that our dependence on oil is so risky and temporary that now is the time to get out from under. First of all, we should stop building any more oil-fired generating stations, especially the proposed eyesore at Plymouth, with its sulphur air pollution potential. Secondly, we should electrify all our railways. Thirdly, we should forbid any more installation of oil-fired central heating and subsidise double glazing. Fourthly, we should actively encourage an electric or gas driven car for urban areas now and for the rest of the country later. Then there should always be sufficient oil for our defence and agriculture. Let our oil companies become energy companies. Shell has already gone into the nuclear business. Why should not B.P. take over our sewers? Let our motor industry lead the world in the use of new forms of energy. The greatest anathema to me in our dependence on oil is the possibility for blackmail. I have heard that within five days of Saudi Arabia's cutback to America a lively black market in their oil started in Turkey.

My Lords, there are 101 facets of this subject, from riding bicycles, using canals, hovertrains, motorways through parks and beauty spots and so on, which I hope will be referred to by noble Lords this afternoon. I am even prepared to agree, subject to argument, with those who say that there is no shortage, but only maldistribution. But being excessively naive, I always believe what the Government tell me—35 years is what Hansard says! I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, will accept that as my excuse for not altering the wording of this Motion. I look forward to hearing what the Government are going to do to protect our future in this respect. Do not wait for the experts to make up their minds. Remember that all the professors placed end to end will never reach a conclusion. I beg to move for Papers.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for raising this most interesting subject to-day. It is on a Motion which he has had down for quite a considerable time. I should also like to thank him for a very informative, thoughful, stimulating and, I think I might add, imaginative speech. The Motion is clearly intended to be in the classical tradition of House of Lords' Motions—one raising a matter of very great significance to the future of this country. The noble Lord has certainly opened up a very wide field, and since the Motion first appeared on the Order Paper events have taken place which seem to make the possibility of a world shortage of oil not merely impending, but imminent. The Middle East and North Africa companies, which at present account for 40 per cent. of world oil production and 67 per cent. of world exports, have increased the prices of crude oil by 70 per cent., and have indicated their intention of cutting back shipments by 25 per cent. In these circumstances, I feel bound to interpret the Motion widely enough to cover in my speech the prospects of an immediate shortage, as well as the longer-term prospects for oil. I hope I am right in judging that it is the wish of your Lordships that I start by saying something about the present situation, even although it has no obviously immediate implications for road construction, which is very much a matter for longer-term policy.

So far as the present situation is concerned, the first priority must clearly be to promote a settlement of the dispute between the Arab countries and Israel. As to the level of stocks I have nothing to add to the Statement that I repeated to the House on October 24. The Government will of course keep the stocks situation under careful review, and will keep the House informed of the whole supply situtation as it develops. The supplier countries in the Middle East have put up their prices by 70 per cent., but that of course does not affect existing stocks in this country. Obviously, the higher prices now charged to oil companies will affect our balance of payments. My right honourable friend announced on Monday that he has reactivated the Oil Supplies Advisory Committee, which includes all the main oil companies operating in the United Kingdom, so that he can be kept informed about the exact position of oil supplies in this country. It has in fact met to-day. The other body—the Oil Industry Emergency Committee—has of course been operating for some weeks.

There have been some suggestions that the Government are being unduly complacent about the threat to our oil supplies and that allocation and rationing schemes should be introduced without delay. The Government have not in fact failed to take the steps that are required. Contingency plans have been brought to a state of readiness, and we shall, if required, bring before Parliament an enabling Bill that will provide the powers needed to impose controls. This is a necessary and sensible precaution to put the country in a position to meet the oil supply situation should it get worse. But the foreseeable effects on the United Kingdom have so far been slight, and we have assurances from certain producing countries that they do not intend to cut supplies to the United Kingdom. Our stocks are also at satisfactory levels.

Given the great uncertainties of the present situation no one should be complacent, but it would surely be wrong to rush in measures to restrict consumption—with all the inevitable industrial and other dislocation that would cause—until the situation becomes clearer. But we are ready to move quickly if necessary, and shall not hesitate to do so. Meantime, my right honourable friend made an appeal (which I repeated in this House) to avoid wasteful consumption of oil products, whether by motorists or by industrial, commercial and domestic users. It is plainly in the national interest that everyone should do his best to economise in the use of oil at the present time.

To turn back to the terms of the Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, has drawn our attention to a complex and important aspect of transport policy. Of all the many factors which have to be taken into account in long-term estimates of road transport requirements and in planning road provision and construction, two of the most fundamental are the availability of fuel in adequate quantities and its price. The Government will study very carefully what is said in this debate.

Perhaps I should begin by describing briefly the area of Government policy which is at the heart of this debate—the road programme. What is the road programme with which the Motion is concerned? Last year the capital cost of works for the construction and improvement of roads was over £500 million. This year the figure will be appreciably higher. More than a third of this expenditure is devoted to the creation of a modern network of high-quality trunk routes to secure adequate communications between all our larger towns, our ports and airports, to connect the more remote or less prosperous regions with the rest of the country and to by-pass historic towns. The Government believe that the road programme has a major contribution to make to the prosperity and well-being of the nation; and I shall return to that point later.

Now let me turn to the question of the longer-term availability and price prospects for oil, and, indeed, the ultimate question of the point at which oil will run out altogether. These questions are of obvious importance to longer-term road planning. Moreover, the problems of oil are only a part of the wider problem of energy supplies as a whole. What I shall try to do is to set the stage for discussion of the interaction of energy and transport policies, which is what this Motion is about. I need hardly emphasise how seriously the Government take the general energy question. Energy supplies go to the heart of our economic and social life; they are the basis of our well-being for decades to come; they are matters which need the most earnest and constant attention. There always has been the possibility of short-term interruptions of supply, and the Government have not been taken by surprise by recent events. Not only have we increased our own reserves, but we have also made flexible contingency plans to put into operation when needed.

Basically, the general energy prospect is one of stringency in oil supplies, with a rising price trend. World demand for oil has been increasing—with consequent pressure on supplies and prices, of which United Kingdom demand is only a part. For oil, the United Kingdom is also at present wholly dependent on imports. The Government have therefore been taking action to make the best use of the United Kingdom's indigenous energy resources.

Our most abundant energy resource is coal. Last year the Government decided to make provision (which they did through the Coal Industry Act) to arrest the decline of the industry. The massive support available for the National Coal Board in the next five years was intended to ensure that we retain a large coal industry. The Government have pressed on with the examination of this question. They have encouraged the National Coal Board to undertake an exploration programme, and are discussing with the Board the question of the investment needed for future production. Perhaps it is just worth mentioning what the investment actually involves. The aid to be given for the next five years to the coal industry is very considerable. It includes grants totalling £695 million. The Government have also encouraged the rapid exploration and development of the North Sea, which already provides about 90 per cent. of our needs for gas. As noble Lords are aware, North Sea oil is expected to yield some 70 to 100 million tons per annum by 1980.

As to nuclear power, the nine Magnox stations opened by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board already account for 10 per cent. of our electricity generation and between 3 and 4 per cent. of the country's total energy requirements. The five advanced gas-cooled reactor stations now under construction will add a further 6,000 mW by 1976, more than doubling the total from nuclear power. The first station, Hinkley Point B, is expected to be providing power during 1974. Looking further ahead, nuclear power will be of increasing importance, and the Government have announced their intention of developing it as quickly as is prudent. Meantime, the nuclear construction industry has been reorganised and a single new powerful reactor company, the National Nuclear Corporation, has been established to provide the single strong unit needed to meet generating requirements in the 1980s. In addition, a Nuclear Power Advisory Board has been set up to advise the Government on all strategic aspects of civil nuclear energy policy, including the choice of the type of thermal reactor to meet our short and medium term needs.

Noble Lords will recollect that a decision on this is to be taken in the New Year, following an 18-month programme of work on the various systems. I should add that on matters of safety the Secretary of State (and this was a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford) will continue to be advised by the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations and the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee, who are also advising the new Advisory Board. Whatever system is chosen, the first station is unlikely to be completed much before the end of the decade. Looking still further ahead, the sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor will have an important part to play, but orders are not expected to be placed in quantity until the mid-1980s. Its major advantage will be that it will produce more fuel than it consumes and will make a much more efficient use of uranium resources than the thermal reactors now in use.

My Lords, I should now like to consider how longer-term energy prospects bear on transport policy. Road construction and road transport policies operate in the medium and long term, and it is the oil situation in these time-scales that I should now like to consider. I think we have to ask ourselves these questions. In the next 15 to 20 years will oil become so scarce, or so expensive, that there will have to be a big shift away from oil-powered road transport? If so, ought we to be thinking of large new road networks? This question was one asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.

The level and cost of supplies in 20 years' time are naturally uncertain and are not in the control of this Government or any Government in the Western. World, but we can state a number of things with a fair degree of confidence. It is not a question of imminent exhaustion of the world's reserves of oil. I do not differ from the figure that the noble Lord quoted. The extent of conventional oil reserves in the world are roughly as he stated. The reserves are obviously finite, but they are also still very large, and we do not by any means know their full extent. One could put it at 35 or 25 years, depending on what you take as a base. Thirty-five years is probably taken as the base at current rates of consumption. There is every reason to believe that, provided a sufficient exploration effort is maintained, enough oil could physically be made available over this period to meet a world demand for oil for all purposes substantially greater than at present.

Even when this period is over, adequate supplies should still be available—at a price—for premium uses such as transport, where the difficulty of substituting other sources of energy for oil may be greatest. In addition, as the price of oil increases it may become economical to produce oil from coal, shale or oil sands, as the noble Lord indicated. However, as the noble Lord also said, there are serious environmental problems there. So it is not a question of imminent exhaustion; it is rather a question of coming to the end of a period when supplies of oil have been cheap and plentiful, and patterns of consumption have been expanded in a way which reflects this cheapness and plenty.

We must assume that fuel prices will be significantly higher in real terms than they have been in the past. We must also face the possibility that supplies will be tighter, and perhaps progressively tighter, than they have been. Apart from depletion, producers may well take steps to conserve their finite resources in the face of rapidly rising world demand. These are significant trends. They have implications over the whole field of energy policy, and, I repeat, the Government take them very seriously. But just as it would be wrong to be complacent about them, so would it be wrong to be alarmist.

What is their significance in the field of transport policy? At present in relation to total energy consumed in the United Kingdom, oil accounts for just under half. And of this proportion, road transport at present accounts for a fifth. So that is a fifth of a half. At present there are virtually no substitutes for motor fuel for road transport purposes except for vehicles used at short ranges and for limited purposes, such as milk floats, which I imagine account for a large proportion of the electric vehicles which the noble Lord quoted. By contrast, as the price of oil rises in relation to other fuels, industrial, commercial and domestic users of oil for purposes other than transport who are able to substitute electricity and other fuels for oil will have a greater economic incentive to do so. Within the electricity industry itself, new nuclear power stations coming into service in the 1980s will provide an increasing proportion of the Generating Boards' energy requirements.

Only in the longer run, however, can we expect substitutes for motor fuel for road transport purposes to be available at competitive prices on any substantial scale. But to the extent that substitution of other fuels for oil takes place in non-transport uses, it will become possible, through new investment in more complex refining facilities, to increase the proportion of refined motor fuel yielded from any given quantity of crude oil. In America, as the noble Lord will know, the proportion of motor fuel taken from crude oil is much higher than it is here, but it would need a considerable degree of investment to increase that proportion here. So from the supply side, with new refinery investment in the medium term, there should he considerable flexibility to increase the proportion of total United Kingdom oil consumption used by road transport well beyond the 20 per cent. it takes to-day—although probably, as I said, at some increase in refining cost, on top of the rising cost of crude oil. Accordingly, to sum up the supply side, though the price of motor fuel is likely to rise, it is reasonable to assume, especially taking account of our North Sea oil resources, that supplies of oil will still be available in 20 years' time to support a transport system which is largely oil-based.

The main question, therefore, is what will happen to the demand for motor fuel at the higher real prices which are expected to prevail in future; how this will be reflected in the demand for travel by road; and how this in turn will affect the assumptions and predictions on which our road programme is based. In 1972, the United Kingdom consumed some 16 million tons of petrol and 5 million tons of Derv fuel. Passenger cars and motor cycles consumed 13 million tons—over 60 per cent. of all motor fuel—nearly all in the form of petrol. The figure I gave at the start was consumption for transport usage. Goods vehicles consumed nearly 7 million tons, or just over 30 per cent. of all motor fuel, about two-thirds of it in the form of Derv.

In the light of this pattern of motor fuel use, how is an increase in the cost of crude oil likely to affect the demand for passenger travel? Two factors have to be borne in mind. First, the cost of crude oil, loaded into tankers in the producing country, accounts at present for only about an eighth of the total cost of petrol at the pump; the rest represents the cost of refining, distribution and tax. The cost of petrol, therefore, is unlikely to rise proportionately as fast as that of crude oil. Secondly, the cost of petrol is only part of the total cost of motoring. For many motorists, annual depreciation on the capital cost of the car, licensing charges and insurance, wear and tear and other maintenance costs, and parking charges, together greatly exceed the cost of petrol. So the demand for private motoring is likely to be relatively insensitive to increases in the price of crude oil. If demand for motor fuel does grow less rapidly than in the past, this may well reflect lower fuel consumption per mile travelled rather than any reduction in the number of miles travelled by private car. In the medium and longer run, higher petrol prices are likely to stimulate a demand for smaller and lighter vehicles and for more efficient variants of the internal combustion engine, with lower fuel consumption per mile. These and other technical developments which can be introduced on a substantial scale more rapidly than new power units—such as the electric car—should enable a given amount of travel to be achieved with the use of considerably less petrol than is required today.

The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, returned in his speech to the question of encouraging the production and development of electric cars. He asked a Question about this on July 18, to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers gave a series of very informative answers. Electric vehicles have obvious advantages which are worth exploiting and developing—even apart from the supply of oil. I agree that any vehicle which is quiet and does not pollute the atmosphere is obviously to be encouraged. But I must not lead your Lordships to believe that any breakthrough is in sight which would give us fast, long-range electric cars. At a time when the future world energy pattern is in a state of flux, a sudden break-through in the technology of electricity storage would be very welcome. It is sensible to ask whether such a break-through would not be brought nearer if we were to double or treble our research effort. This question is being studied, but I should remind your Lordships that any great increase would pre-empt scarce scientific manpower and resources without any assurance of success commensurate with the loss in other areas of research. One has to bear in mind that this kind of research is going on in other countries as well.

I should like to draw attention to what my honourable friend Mr. Peter Emery said in another place. He gave some information on July 19 about progress on the sodium-sulphur battery. The Department of Trade and Industry has funded a Project Definition Study and work is being done by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in collaboration with British Rail and the Electricity Council. The Department of the Environment is providing 50 per cent. of British Rail's costs for the project. We cannot say what the practical possibilities are until we receive the full results of this Study. At the same time, the Electricity Council will be carrying out experiments with cars. The main problems, of course, are to increase the range of electric vehicles without the need to recharge, and secondly to reduce the weight of batteries that have to be carried. So far the present range generally does not exceed 60 miles for buses and 80 miles for cars. The noble Lord said, I think, 70 to 100 miles for the car he had in mind. Even with research going on in other countries, however, it would be a mistake to count on electrically-powered vehicles replacing oil-powered vehicles in the near future.

Even if out-of-pocket costs of private motoring rise more sharply than fares on public transport, motorists may well continue to place such a high value on the convenience and flexibility of travelling door-to-door by private car that they will prefer to absorb the higher cost of petrol rather than change to a less convenient mode of travel, particularly if real incomes continue to rise. So long as individual choice determines the mode of travel, the total demand for travel by car may thus not be affected substantially by the rising cost of motor fuel.

As noble Lords are aware, in the last Session the Expenditure Committee in another place produced a full report on urban transport planning. The main points brought out were that in our major cities we could not provide road space to satisfy the full potential demand for use of the private car; that there would have to be greater restraint on using private cars for journeys to work, and that there would have to be increased emphasis on maintaining and improving the provision of public transport. The Government in their reply endorsed this general approach. The House will see that an increase in the relative cost of using private cars would work in the same direction, in that to some extent it will tend to restrain the use of private cars. So it seems clear that energy considerations work in the same direction as the urban transport policies that we would wish to see local authorities adopt.

On inter-urban and rural roads, although private cars account for some 83 per cent. of the total mileage travelled by vehicles of all kinds, the economic and social case for road construction rests by no means solely on the need to provide for the private motorist. Even if the higher petrol prices produced a significant change in the pattern of passenger travel—if there were the increased use of buses and coaches, in other words—better roads would still be needed in so far as demand for public road transport depends on its speed, regularity, reliability, comfort and safety. Moreover, an increasingly important reason for building new and improved roads is to protect people from the intrusion of heavy goods vehicles. A major part of the economic and social justification for interurban highways and for by-passes round villages, or round provincial and historic towns, lies in the need to reduce, so far as possible, the adverse effects of heavy goods traffic on our daily life. New roads can also provide shorter routes and smoother traffic flows. These will also save fuel, except to the extent that the fuel that should be saved is dissipated in higher speeds.

Some noble Lords are hound to ask: Would not greater use of our railways make it unnecessary to devote so much investment to road construction? But even at present traffic flows we need better roads. The best we could hope for from using our railways more would be some reduction in the prospective increase of road traffic flows, not a reduction in their present levels. True, rising motor fuel prices may increase the cost of sending freight by road relatively to the cost of sending it by cad, assuming there is no change in other relative costs. At present, 85 per cent. of the tonnage is moved by road. But some 70 per cent. of all the tonnage of goods now moved by road travels less than 25 miles, and 93 per cent. of it travels less than 100 miles. For most goods these distances are too short for rail shipment to be economic, because they have to be transhipped at each end of the rail journey. Moreover, the main increases in freight movement are expected in manufactures, food and other goods (which are in general less suitable for shipment by rail), rather than in the bulk commodities for which rail is most economic. So even if, as the result of rising costs of moter fuel, it becomes economic to divert more freight from road to rail the volume of road freight is still likely to rise.

In the longer term we believe that, given the enormous attractiveness to commerce, industry and society generally, of the flexibility and convenience of the small unit of transport—the lorry, the coach and the car—ways will be found of operating such vehicles even if oil supplies become much more difficult. Such vehicles are, after all, the means of making use of about 200,000 miles of track, compared with the 11,000 miles or so represented by the railway system. We therefore believe that it is sensible to continue to improve the network designed for road-using vehicles.

Perhaps I could sum up the main points of the argument as follows—we are speaking here, of course, of the implications for road transport and road construction. The issues raised by the Motion are essentially longer-term issues. In the longer term I do not see any reason to doubt that fuel supplies will be available to support a transport system largely based on oil. Certainly the expectation must be that it will be more expensive, but all the evidence shows that people will want to use the roads more, not less, even though the price of oil goes up. In a free society one should restrain the free choice of individuals only where this conflicts with the greater good of all. So a policy of restraining traffic in towns is justified, and the Government accept the need for restraint in that situation. But outside towns more roads are needed both on economic and on social grounds, and also to improve the urban environment by reducing congestion, noise and pollution. The road programme must therefore continue to support these economic, social and environmental objectives. At the same time, the search must, and will, continue in this country and elsewhere for substitutes for oil in the field of road transport.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, in case some of your Lordships do not know, I had better once more declare that I have a connection with Shell. I think most of your Lordships know that, but just in case there is somebody here who does not, perhaps I had better repeat it. I think we should all like to express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for initiating this debate. The debate has become much more important since the date on which he placed his Motion on the Order Paper, and it comes at a particularly dangerous time, of course, in the Middle East. I thought the Minister himself was just a little too easy about price increases, about which I will say something later; but, in case I forget, when he spoke about the increase in price to the private motorist as not being a great deterrent, I think we also ought to remember at the same time that any increase in this commodity has a great reaction on trade and industry, and indeed on public travel. So, while it may not affect the individual motorist all that very much, it can have a considerable effect on the internal economy. I hope the Government have given some attention to that particular aspect of this affair.

Of course, petrol and oil are going up. The increase in prices, and the cut-back in production imposed by the Arab States recently, worsen the position—a position which was already very difficult. Indeed, it was because of this, as well as the whole position in the Middle East, that the Foreign Secretaries of the Common Market countries met to review the situation. It was not merely the question of war—and a very serious problem that is—but all the countries in the Middle East and all importing oil countries knew that this problem had to be dealt with, and the only people who could deal with it were the Arab countries. So that oil was one of the principal reasons for the meeting that was held yesterday.

The extraordinary thing about the statement which has been issued by the nine Governments is that it does not say anything about oil. Surely the Government are not asking your Lordships to believe that these nine countries met yesterday, one of them having been denied any oil at all from the supplying sources, and nobody said a word about it! If they are asking us to believe that, they are putting the matter in line with the tapes which disappeared from Mr. Nixon's possession. We just do not believe it.

May I also say that it is quite easy for nine countries to meet and to decide that one other country—Israel—is wrong, because no matter how Israel behaves the Arabs will not be sending her any oil, but for the nine countries which depend upon oil (including Holland which has been denied it) it is easy for them to make a decision of that kind because they want oil; and nobody seeks to deny that. Before this debate finishes I think it might be reasonable on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is to wind up the debate, if she is able, to tell the House what has in fact been said about oil so that we may discount all the rumours. Rumours circulate and it is much better to have the truth on this particular issue. I think she ought to give it to the House before this debate closes. Indeed I am a little surprised that while the Government have designated one Minister for oil, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, he is not even taking part in the debate. There may be a good reason for that, but does it not seem a little peculiar that the Minister for oil is not taking part in a debate on oil? It seems curious to me. Perhaps we could also have an explanation for that.

As I understand it, the total oil available is deficient by about one-sixth, and if your Lordships find difficulty in equating this figure and the reported cut of one-quarter it is only because the figure represents cuts made by the Arab States and does not include other oil-producing countries. As a result of that action the stocks of all countries will be reduced by approximately one day's supply in six. I know that this is precisely what stocks are for, but for how long are the Government prepared to tolerate the rundown before they take action? Does it in fact mean that by putting it off for a little, when action has to be taken, as was said in another place yesterday, that action will have to be more severe? We do not know. What we do know is—and I am sure the Government will seek to deny it—that the cut in supply means a cut of one day in six. Whatever the stocks are, they are not inexhaustible, and one has to face that position.

The Government have declared—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, repeated it this afternoon—that they have a special relationship with the Arabs which guarantees their supplies. But, quite frankly, there appears to be no real evidence of how this is going to be done, and, what is more important, at what price it is going to be done. If there has been a cut of a sixth in production overall, then at whose expense has it been? The Government cannot say that our supply will continue as it is and at its present quantity without the cuts to all the other importers being even greater. If we are not going to be affected, then who is? Surely the Government do not come with a story of that kind without telling us just how the position is to be met. I am certain that the House would like to know who are the other countries who will bear these cuts, if we are not going to be affected by them.

What it means is that prices are going to rise—I do not think the Minister would deny that—and, in my view, ill many cases they will rise pretty steeply and with a considerable effect on our own economy. Indeed, Mr. Walker did not seek to deny that the consequential increase in prices would have a detrimental effect on our trade balance. So we have to face this problem; but I should like to know a little more precisely—not down to the last new penny, but obviously the Government must have made an estimate—how these increases will affect our economy and what they are likely to be. So I should be grateful, and I am sure the House would be grateful, if the Minister could give us an estimate of what the Government think is the amount of cash that we shall have to provide, and then we can be prepared to meet it.

In addition to the talks with our European partners, there is another important country which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, when he referred to Japan. Japan is a great importer and we know that at the present time she is in a fairly affluent position, to put it no higher than that. I should like to know what, if any, conversations the Government have had with Japan, because surely in a crisis of this kind you have to meet people like yourselves who are importers, to find out what action you are going to take. As the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said, to-day a bit of a black market is developing, even in Turkey. By competition you might very well be pricing yourself out of the market, and I should have thought that at least a former Minister could contact the Japanese to find out what line they are going to take.

All this means that our own oil becomes all the more important. As I understand the position, production will begin in 1975 but significant amounts will not be available until 1976. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me whether or not those dates are correct. We hear dates mentioned and people get mixed up; all we want to know is whether those dates are correct—a kind of trickle by 1975 and worthwhile amounts by 1976. If so, the obvious question to follow is this: is it true that it is physical and not financial problems which make it impossible for us to improve on these dates? There are very many experts on this matter—a tremendous number of whom do not know much about it, but they are all experts!—and every one of them will fix dates to suit their own argument. Therefore I consider it important that the Minister should either confirm or correct the dates which I have given. At full flow it is estimated that these fields can provide about half of our total requirements by 1980. I think this is perfectly true, but I should like this also to be confirmed by the Government, because I am told that the Chancellor in another place used a figure of two-thirds. It is true that by taking 61 one can arrive at either one half or two-thirds, but here again we must know what the real potential is and whether it is a half and not two-thirds. The importance of exploiting the find can be easily realised when one remembers that at the present time we are importing about 100 million tons of crude oil per year. The capital cost, if we were able to produce that amount from our own oilfields, our own resources, has been estimated at no less than £2,000 million. One can see at a glance how important the whole of this question is within our own economy.

My Lords, I do not want to go on too long. We have had two speeches, both of which lasted for half an hour, and it is a little tiresome for your Lordships' House if I fill the third place. But, to conclude, I should like to say a word about coal because coal is going to be very important in our economy. It is curious that when we are discussing foreign affairs people rise and say, "I don't want to say anything which will exacerbate feelings at this time", but I do want to do such a thing about the internal matter of the dispute between the Government and the coal industry. I beg the Government to do what it can in this, because coal is vitally important to our economy. It is the one thing we have, that we own, that we are not dependent for on someone else. I hope that we shall utilise it even to a much greater extent than we have yet anticipated.

In all these developments this may seem a peculiar subject to raise, but it was raised in another place just a couple of nights ago by my honourable friend the Member for South Ayrshire, Mr. Sillars. With all this oil development going on, and despite our need for it, one has to keep the problem of the environment and the countryside in mind. It is quite easy in a great rush to cut things up without thinking of what action will have to be taken in the years that lie ahead. In Scotland we have some beautiful areas. While we have to make a judgment about giving up some of these to aid our economy, we must take the precaution of ensuring that when development activities are ended the countryside will be restored. In other words, we are saying that we do not want to get back to the old days when people exploited the coal, and the only things they ever bequeathed to the nation were coal bins and slag heaps. I regret to say that the forefathers of some of your Lordships were the worst offenders. Much of the landscape in many parts of Scotland and elsewhere has been obliterated.

I know that the Government have given an assurance. Indeed, the Joint Under-Secretary of State in another place (and it is this that I should like your Lordships' House to keep in mind, because frequently an industry gets the blame for riding roughshod over everybody) made it clear that the Scottish Office and local planning authorities have full and absolute control over all the development that takes place. There is control over all the development that takes place, and the conditions in which it takes place, and we have no intention of allowing development to occur in a manner or form which we consider is likely to be damaging to the environment. We have said that on many occasions, and hope this is an appropriate occasion to repeat it. I wanted to repeat it in your Lordships' House because I believe that we should utilise the resources which we have and which really were discovered by a Government Department—never let us forget that, either. The much-maligned civil servants had quite an amount to do with this discovery. Having got the resources, let us use them to their full advantage so that we become less dependent on outside suppliers for our fuel resources. I hope we shall get over our present difficulty and that in a year or two, provided we do what is correct, we shall be much less dependent on the Middle East and elsewhere for the oil requirements of Great Britain.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for bringing attention at this time to the problem of oil and fuel in this country. The noble Lord was correct in saying that I disagree with some of the wording of his Motion, but if I may say so in parenthesis, there will be a world shortage of oil if wasteful consumption continues at the current rate. We are in agreement on what the position is at the moment. I shall make only a brief intervention to make what I hope will be two practical and immediate suggestions to solve some of the problems created by the impending fuel shortage, not of the future but of the next few months. Before I do so, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, that I wish him well in his maiden speech. I look forward very much to hearing it, and perhaps benefiting from his experience on Middle East trading, which I think is very applicable to the subject of the debate to-day.

My Lords, I would mention at this stage some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in his address. He said that everyone should do their best to economise in the use of oil. This is a thought that we all support, but I hope the noble Baroness will give us some assurances that the Government are doing their best, for instance, in thermal insulation. The legislation is still on the books, but not implemented. It takes twice as much oil to heat half as many houses in this country as in Europe. These are things which could be done immediately. I should like to think the Government will do something about this, and perhaps the noble Baroness will give us her assurance.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that the best use of indigenous resources must be made. On this we are in complete agreement with him. But I do not think he mentioned the fact that the Prime Minister opened an oil-fired power station in Pembrokeshire just weeks before the Middle East war broke out. I do not know how this can be contiguous with the best use of our indigenous resources. I support the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, on this. I should have liked the Minister to say that he was going to open more dual-fired stations. If he is going to open more oil-fired power stations, these should be compensated with dual-fired stations that use coal as well.

My Lords. I think we have established at this stage of the debate that the so-called energy crisis of the moment is not due to a shortage of energy sources, but to an interruption in supplies. In my view, it is therefore not covered by the wording of the noble Lord's Motion. The solution to this problem must surely be found through the medium of oil diplomacy, for want of a better word. My hope is that this diplomacy will not be based on unenlightened self-interest because such a policy cannot guarantee future supplies, and must inevitably weaken the whole structure of thinking behind the European Economic Community if it is pursued for any length of time for political purposes in this country.

Some of your Lordships may recall the debate we had on energy in February this year. One of the conclusions of that debate was that the days of cheap energy are over. This was confirmed in today's Daily Telegraph by the Secretary for Trade and Industry, Mr. Walker, who is quoted as saying that oil prices will rise substantially and this will affect the whole of our energy policy. I must ask again, what energy policy? Who is the custodian of Her Majesty's Government energy policy? Where is it to be found? I have asked these questions before, and others have, too, in this House. The right honourable Minister in another place referred publicly to an energy policy, but I do not know what that energy policy is. Perhaps the Minister will refer me to some places where T can find it, because I cannot find any mention of it in any public place. I am relieved to hear that there is an energy policy, but when are we going to know about it'? The last time the noble Lord tried to answer my question he said that the energy policy was a day-to-day affair. I quite agree that the sun rises and sets, but nevertheless we hope it rises the next day and the light comes forth; I feel this is not the basis of an energy policy, either short-term or long-term.

Finally, before going on to the small suggestions I have, I should also like to have heard mention, in the Queen's Speech perhaps, of an energy commission. This suggestion was put forward not only from these Benches; it originated from here, but it was seconded all over the Chamber that an energy commission should be considered. I should have thought that the Queen's Speech would he a perfect opportunity for the Minister to say that something was going to happen about an energy commission, and that the Government were taking it seriously.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, while I agree with everything he has said, he is being too modest. As Liberals we fought a General Election on this in 1929, with a very complete and detailed energy policy.


I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps the noble Lord, the Minister, may find it useful to refer back to that in the Library. I want to deal with one important aspect of this Motion, one that I have raised before in this House, more than a year ago. It is the use of the motor car in large cities or conurbations. I am pleased that the Minister referred to it in his speech to-day. Some noble Lords may recall a debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester in June, 1972. He was concerned with the problems that the motor car would create in the year 2010. My intervention at that time was based on the misuse of the internal combustion engine in city centres because of its inherent inefficiency in urban traffic conditions; to put it another way, its wasteful energy conversion which creates pollution and an unnecessary drain on the country's fuel reserves. I am afraid it met with little response from the Government: they said that it was futuristic, but, after all, the debate was about the future. I maintained, and I maintain to-day, that this argument is as relevant in 1973 as it is for the year 2000 and after. I see no earthly reason why a large-engined car, working at maximum inefficiency, should be allowed at all in places like central London or in other congested city centres, when a small engined vehicle can perform the task required, to carry an average of two people 25 to 35 miles per day at 30 m.p.h., more efficiently and with less waste and less 'pollution. I am therefore simply suggesting that the road licensing authorities, by a simple colour change of all the discs on cars with a cubic capacity of over 2,000 c.c., should indicate that these vehicles are to be banned from motor-congested areas during the working clay. This simple sign or coloured disc would be policed by the traffic wardens and, indeed, fines imposed similar to parking fines if a large car infringed this ban.

Noble Lords might be interested to know how many cars of over 2,000 c.c., are registered in the London area. I have figures from the Department of the Environment. It does not say how many petrol-engined cars, but let us give or take a bit. The number is just over 164,000 in the London area, and in the Home Counties just over 130,000, making a total of just under 300,000 large-engined cars which are either registered in London or being driven in London. The basic assumption I make, which may not be immediately apparent, is this. If a car owner can afford a vehicle of this engine size and can afford to run it, especially in conditions where we are going to have high energy prices, high petrol costs, he is usually a two-car-family man. I therefore suggest that he can certainly afford to purchase two cars of smaller capacity, If noble Lords accept this, then the other basic assumption I want them to accept is that large-engined cars are for long journeys and small-engined cars for short journeys. I must declare my own interest. I arrived at your Lordships' House in a car which I was horrified to discover is 175 c.c. over this limit. The car itself does not enjoy performing in these traffic conditions. I should be doing my fellow Londoners, as well as the motor car, a favour by leaving it for longer journeys on the motorway.

The attraction of this policy is that it can be implemented immediately. The administrative machinery is already established in the sense that every registration licence is governed by its cubic capacity. It does not really infringe on personal liberties at all. It can save fuel, reduce pollution, and indeed relieve congestion, as the larger engined cars are left on the periphery of the inner ring of large cities. This policy may also encourage the Government to spend more money and time on research into the development of electric vehicles, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, suggested, and various other things. I ask for serious consideration of this policy. Perhaps the noble Baroness will refer to it in her closing speech. I must make this clear. I raise this at this time only because I feel it might get a better hearing. I am not raising the idea of trying to ban large-engined cars in cities because there is an impending fuel crisis at this time. I believe it is a deeper policy than this; that larger cars should not be run in city centres, whether there is a fuel crisis or not. It is uneconomical, it is wasteful and it is dirty.

I want to say in conclusion a brief word about taxis. I mentioned taxis in the debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate about urban transportation in the year 2000. I gave notice to the Minister that I was going to raise this matter again to-day. I asked at the time of that debate, which was in June, 1972, that the noble Lord should ask his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider Section 3 of the 1971 Finance Act, which penalises conversion of petrol vehicles to gas-powered vehicles. I suggest that the noble Lord looks again at this question. There were nearly 11,000 registered taxis in this area, according to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, in the year 1972. Most of those taxis were at Piccadilly Circus at a drive-in which caused me to be a little late this afternoon. I did manage to obtain some papers from one of the drivers, as there was nothing else to do at the time. This seems to be a complaint about lack of understanding by the Home Office of taxi-drivers' problems, mainly to do with money, outside the confines of this debate. But it is the same kind of situation.

Here we have an urban vehicle that is effective and economical, and yet the Government, the 'Treasury—not the Minister of the Environment or the Department of Trade and Industry—say that a fuel tax must he charged on vehicles that cut down pollution and are much more economical to run, and cut down engine wear. This is a Treasury decision. If the Ministry of the Environment is to mean anything, if we are to take energy seriously, I believe someone must tell the Treasury that there are more important things at this moment, like the quality of life and improving our city centres. The Treasury should be told to go away and think again, and give consideration to, or even insist upon, the conversion of taxis from petrol and diesel engines to bottled gas engines. This would be only a short-term solution because we have not enough natural gas to carry this out as a general policy. But this is practical policy; the technology is already there. It is merely a fiscal imposition imposed by the Government that is preventing more taxis going over to this very efficient form of fuel.

I leave these two simple thoughts with the Minister. I have not gone into the future with the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, about the various combinations and exciting changes that can be brought about in road transport, but I felt that this was an opportunity to mention two small things, and to ask once again about the Government's energy policy. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness has to tell us.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, speaking for the first time to your Lordships I hope that you will accord to me your customary forbearance. I want to speak for a few minutes on affairs to do with oil in the Middle East. I believe that in this area your Lordships will have to be particularly kind to me because it is difficult in discussing this problem, at this particular time, to be non-contentious. It is not my wish to be contentious. I also mention to-day two areas of interest. For the past 25 years I have been concerned with trade and commerce in the area. I am also the Chairman of the Committee on Middle East Trade, a body supported by successive Governments in its endeavours to help British industry and British Governments in their policy in the area.

It is no part of my purpose to dwell on the tragic events of the past month in the area referred to earlier this afternoon, except to say that I believe that there may be two blessings which will come from them. The first is that I think we are closer than for many a long year to a settlement of the desperate problems that face Israel. I believe that quite soon we may be seeing a settlement of that problem. If this happens, much of the problem that has been discussed this afternoon will have temporarily gone away. The second benefit that I can see coming is that this particular period of three months will have dramatised to this House, in a way that few other situations could have done, what the energy crisis is about. My understanding of it is that although in the North Sea this country will very soon have a considerable measure of self-sufficiency, this is not really what this House and this country should be considering. After all, we are part of the wider world, and we have great obligations to Europe.

I do not think that only our problem concerns us this afternoon. Surely it is necessary for the world to think about the great problems of allocation. I welcome very much the kind remarks about me made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and also his suggestion about an energy commission. It seems to me that the problem is of such dimensions that it is in this area that we should urge our Government to think. One small example of the necessity for that thinking is that I believe in the United States in the last few years both the drilling rate and the actual volume of oil and gas reserves have in fact gone down. It is hard to believe in the circumstances in which we find ourselves that such folly should have been allowed to occur.

When the history of our times is written, one of the curiosities will be that we have permitted the price of a raw material, now seen by us to be so essential and so valuable, over a whole period of 15 years to remain at a very low level, under 2 dollars a barrel. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, was talking about low priced oil; I believe that this represents a price at which it was being given away to the consuming countries. One has only to dwell for a moment on what has happened to raw material prices throughout the world to see that there is a real injustice that we, the consuming nations, have perpetrated in the eyes of the countries which own the oil. What other commodities in the last 10 to 15 years have not doubled, or even trebled in value? I know that this is not the responsibility of one Government, or one oil company, or one group of consumers, but I believe that it will appear as a grave injustice. I mention that because I think that the paramount need of the next era is our relationships, and our good relationships, with the people who control the oil. We have seen that they control it, and I believe that we must recognise their real thoughts. Here, perhaps, is where my experience is of some value.

Out of the 2 dollars which has been paid for the oil, about 1.30 dollars has gone to the consuming country; that is, 1.30 dollars for 35 gallons of crude oil. They make the comparison that the Western Governments—perhaps our own Government, too—have been taking into their revenues something of the order of 20p per gallon of petrol. They see this as another example of a grave injustice. I accept at once that this is not a fair comparison; but this is not a fair world and this is what is being said. Another thing that must be remembered is that we have paid for this oil in money which we have very quickly devalued, and very often devalued before the oil producers could make any use of it. It has been devalued on a substantial scale. When I talk of 2 dollars for oil, I am talking about 2 dollars which we, the West, have then devalued.

May I, in humility, offer a few points to Government policy as Britain's contribution towards solving the world's energy crisis, perhaps a contribution which can be of really deep significance for the last years of this century. First, we must relax no effort to maximise our own oil. I am sure that this is being done. Secondly, we must get the proper division of our own resources among all the various matters we have heard about this afternoon; between the development of oil and the development of nuclear energy, solar energy, and the North Sea oil development, which is immensely costly. Then, whatever we do, we must remember that we in Britain, and the rest of the world, are dependent on the 60 per cent. of oil resources which are held in the Middle East; our lives and their lives are indivisible. We must learn to be on the best neighbourly relations with people who are so important to us.

What I can say to your Lordships, and I say this again in all sincerity, is that I believe that our relationships with the Arab world are to-day better than they have been at any time in the last twenty years. When I say "better", I believe that we are on an equal partnership basis; we are not felt by them to be in a dominating position, and their hand of friendship and their doors are open freely to Britain, all Britons, and all British industry. It is perhaps in this measure of confidence, which I am suggesting exists, that there is a great ray of hope in the expectation of solving our energy problems in the years to come, because what can be done between the owners of a great natural resource and the skilled engineers, skilled financiers, and all the British skills that are available, is something that passes my comprehension.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say one word about the oil revenues themselves. I find it difficult to comprehend the figures that are bandied about of oil payment monies going into the pockets of our Middle East friends, but they are on a scale that dwarfs the reserves of all the Western countries. I believe that if we are clever in our relationships with the Arab world we can turn these great monetary resources into a further great benefit for ourselves and for the West.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Denman, I cannot help wondering why he has kept us waiting for his maiden speech. His speech was so clear and so excellent that I am sure we all hope that he will frequently help us in our deliberations in this House. I particularly admired his reference to the fact that we cannot discuss fuel policy in this country by ourselves; it is something which affects all our neighbours, and indeed the whole world. We are grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this matter to our attention, and we wish him every good fortune in his efforts to encourage Middle East trade.

My Lords, I think all of us must be a little surprised at the clarity of the crystal ball which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, uses and which enables him to predict exactly when it is appropriate for a debate to be held and to choose a subject-matter months in advance. This is obviously an occasion which is very valuable, and we are grateful to the noble Lord for having brought the matter to our attention. I do not want to go into this subject in great detail (I wish to be very brief), but there are one or two points that I think are of considerable importance for us. First of all, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said, although there is an imminent crisis one cannot really say that there is any crisis in oil supplies in the long term. There is no crisis in terms of there not being oil available: the crisis is in the availability of it to us. In other words, it is in getting the oil to where it is wanted. This is something which necessarily concerns us all very much.

Oil, after all, is something which we have to use for certain particular purposes. I think that unfortunately, owing to the ease of separation of oil constituents by simple distillation, we in this country have done an oil separation which gives us large quantities of fuel oil. I think that about 40 per cent. comes in the form of fuel oil. This is much cheaper and much easier for us to do. The Americans have a far higher percentage of gasoline, but this is because they use a much more elaborate process in the refineries—a process which is also more expensive. We are now faced with the fact that it is becoming wasteful to use oil as a straight fuel, in the sense of just burning it. I am not referring to an internal combustion engine, although that is a fairly extravagant way of using it; but at least one can say that if one has an internal combustion engine one must have gasoline in order to be able to run that internal combustion engine. But if we simply take nearly half our oil and just burn it in a furnace, we are doing something that is very extravagant. We are using something which is a precious material that can be used for all sorts of purposes, and we are using it highly wastefully.

In the past, the same was true of coal. Coal was used scandalously in the early part of this century; it was being most extravagantly wasted. We have learnt a bit about coal, and we now have to learn about oil. But, my Lords, we are faced with the position that, despite what we say about the North Sea, we are going to be dependent for a long time upon imported oil. The figure has been given (it was given recently, I think on Monday, by Mr. Barber) that two-thirds of our oil would come from the North Sea by 1980. I think Mr. Barber was extremely optimistic in making this statement because, according to the investigation made during the past year by the Institute of Fuel, with an expert committee, it will require investment of the order of £300 million a year in order to get the oil. You cannot just get the oil because it is there; you have to put in the installations to get it—and their estimate of the investment required is of the order of £300 million a year. So it is not going to be easy to get that quantity of oil from the North Sea, although I have no doubt that we shall be able to get it.

When we look further into this matter we see that, even if we do get it, tile question of how much oil we shall require by 1980 depends upon the total energy that we have available, and very optimistic estimates are still being made about the supply of nuclear energy. It is true that we call get a considerable amount of nuclear energy, but the Government have not yet decided what form the new stations are to take. It will take eight years to build a station—it does not take much less at the present time—and, consequently, we shall find that by 1980 we have no more nuclear stations than have been at present planned. We shall therefore not have the supply of nuclear energy; and there is very little one can do about it. It is too late to get it now. So we may find ourselves faced with a much greater deficit of oil supplies than is indicated by the figure given by Mr. Barber, and I would suggest that we have to be very cautious about estimates of this type.

My Lords, there is a further point which I think is of very grave significance, and that is that our coal industry is steadily running down. It is running down because the present capacity—that is to say, the amount of coal that can he mined from existing pits—is steadily decreasing and will be exhausted within 30 years. Unless we are prepared to put massive sums of money into exploiting new pits—into getting the reserves which are under the North Sea, for example; the reserves that are in Yorkshire—our coal supplies will steadily dwindle. In fact, the estimate is that by about 1980 we shall be producing not much more than 60 million to 70 million tons of coal a year. I remember that at one time we were producing about 240 million tons a year. This situation is inevitable unless during the next ten years we put between £1,000 million and £2,000 million into the exploitation of our coal resources. It is no small matter.

But, my Lords, what do we do? We are prepared to start a new air-sea port at Maplin, the sole effect of which will be to use more oil and not less. We are prepared to spend on it a minimum of £1,000 million—probably £2,000 million. We are not spending the money on developing our fuel resources; we are prepared even to construct a seaport there to bring in vast tankers of oil. Where will the oil come from? It seems to me that what we are doing is creating the most expensive white elephant in history. In the same way, we are now talking about a Channel Tunnel. Again, cheerfully another £1,000 million or so goes into this. But where the money is needed is in exploiting coal resources to enable us to have the energy to run our civilisation.

My Lords, we are in the very gravest danger now of reaching the wrong decisions. There is very little we can do except by taking special steps to cope with an emergency; but this is not the emergency I am talking about. I am talking about what will happen in ten years' time. Unless we take the steps now, an emergency then is inevitable and we shall find ourselves in a far worse position from the point of view of energy than we have ever been. For all these reasons I think the Motion put before us to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, is one of extreme importance. It is of extreme importance because we must realise that we have to decide where this country is going, and the decisions that we reach now will be absolutely determining in a period of ten years.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by adding my congratulations to those of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, upon his maiden speech in this House. It was a most polished performance and exceptionally well informed. I hope that we shall hear him again in the future. Secondly, may I refer particularly to the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, put down weeks, or even months, ago? I think his intention when he put that down was to encourage debate on the middle and longer term parts of our fuel policy. The debate to-day, so far, has been largely concerned with the short term. But it is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones just said, that in the next few years we must devote ourselves very seriously indeed to consideration of the future. Whether we believe the estimates of 25 years or 35 years or 50 years; whether or not we practice all the economies which noble Lords have so far mentioned—and I hope we shall, even to using these Devonian piles of pig manure which unexpectedly are a source of methane gas that can be effectively used in internal combustion engines—the stock of hydrocarbons in the earth must sooner or later run down or become too expensive to get.

We must not be deterred by a natural optimism deriving from the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea and coal in Yorkshire, from taking steps, as we approach the end of this century and pass into the first decades of the next, to ensure there is a smooth transition from oil, coal and gas as primary sources of energy to other sources of energy. With the development of nuclear energy, of course, this transition has begun. But the rate at which it continues, and indeed the nature of the changes that will have to be made, are matters with which we should concern ourselves, very seriously, now, not forgetting that, with alternative sources of energy, the kinds of inconveniences we are at present experiencing, which may come again from the policies of the oil-producing States, can best be mitigated by the use of other sources of energy than oil. And not forgetting, either, my Lords, that in finding the right alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels we ought to be reducing pollution and the damage resulting from it.

It is difficult at the present time to visualise a satisfactory alternative to hydrocarbon fuels for aircraft. There is an alternative, and it is hydrogen. But it would need to be carried either in gigantic thermos flasks or in heavy pressure vessels. It is not an attractive alternative. Any policy that we develop must be one in which we preserve to aircraft the kind of fuel they need as far ahead as we can imagine. Hydrogen could be used as a fuel for ships or surface vehicles, but it has the disadvantages which I have mentioned already in the case of aircraft.

For surface transport, my Lords, I believe that the most convenient procedure, for many years to come, must be to convert part of the electricity which we create for our power needs into locomotion either by extending our electrification of railways, by perhaps using the electric car—which Lord Clifford has mentioned, but in the future of which I have no great confidence—or by another means which I hope your Lordships will let me tell you about at the end of these few remarks.

The most obvious alternatives at the present time to the use of hydrocarbon fuels for generating the electricity that we need are water power and nuclear fission. Of all the current sources of energy, I suppose that water power is the most attractive in that it is least damaging to the environment. But most unfortunately in the British Isles we have nowhere near enough of it. I feel that we should extend its use as much as we possibly can and revive the plan—which may never have been dropped—of arranging with Norway to import some of its great water power resources. There is also the possibility of a European grid based upon a pooling of European water power. I believe it is worth investigating. But when all of this is done, I think it will be found that the contribution of water to the world's energy resources is really only a few per cent. When the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, speaks of tidal energy, he is speaking of something that can produce very little against the background which the future demands.

The other alternative I mentioned, nuclear fission, is increasingly popular. Lord Drumalbyn made that clear. But certainly it has serious problems. The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, made that very clear too in what he was saying. It has been estimated—this is an interesting figure, but one of no particular significance—that if we go all out for nuclear power, then at the end of the century the world power demand will require about 20,000 nuclear energy stations, each of the power of Battersea, which means building, roughly, two a day from now on. Quite apart from this being a tall order—so tall that it cannot be contemplated as a solution for, world power—the amount of fission products that are highly dangerous, indeed fatal to man, which would be created and would continue to be dangerous for thousands and thousands of years is staggering. The half life of these products is 30,000 years. The problem of their safe disposal is really terrifying.

My own view, my Lords, is that I do not think we can seriously contemplate continuing ad libitum, indefinitely to use nuclear fission as a primary source of energy supply. There is always the hope —but it is only a hope—of controlled nuclear fusion which would have no unfortunate dangerous end products. But while nuclear fusion is the basis of the hydrogen bomb, in that awful device the fusion is triggered off by a fission explosion and some new and major discovery—something of the magnitude of Faraday's discovery of electromagnetic induction—will have to be made before we can think of nuclear fusion alone as the basis of our energy supplies. If we were to aim for hydrogen burning on the grand scale, we should still have to make the hydrogen. The obvious way to do this, by electrolysis of water, would still demand electrical energy and so does not lead us out of our major difficulty. Therefore we must ask ourselves whether them is a credible alternative to hydrocarbon fuels and to nuclear energy. It seems that there is. It is a solar energy.

When I speak of solar energy I am not referring to the solar engines of the kind the French built in the Pyrenees years ago. Those are reflectors of tile sun's rays concentrated at a focus and producing a great deal of heat for melting or boiling: I am thinking of light falling on solar cells to produce direct electric current. That is the power source of the satellites. It is not difficult to demonstrate. I saw a demonstration as recently as two days ago. By shining a light on a surface of silicone crystals it is possible to get usable current—in fact I heard a broadcast by it. To give an idea of what is involved, it has been estimated that the energy needs of the world in the year 2000 could be produced in this way from an appropriately adapted area of 400 miles square—not necessarily all in one place! On a global scale that is something quite small—less than 0.1 per cent. of the earth's surface—especially as you can imagine these areas as being rafts on the sea if that could be more convenient through a scarcity of appropriate land.

It seems to me that we should set up some appropriate high-level Standing Committee, perhaps the Commission to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Denman, referred, always looking forward to what I believe is the ineluctable move from hydrocarbon fuels to alternatives of the kind that I have indicated. Such a body would work with the Departments of State concerned with science, industry and the environment. It ought to have funds to spend on encouraging creative experiments and it should advise successive Governments on how to plot the course ahead. The Commission would be advised by the many experts in power generation, in nuclear energy, in combustion, and—an increasing number—in solar energy. There might be a great temptation—


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that at the moment the solar engine is in practice a very inefficient form of conversion to electricity? Even on theoretical grounds it is very inefficient. Would he say whether he has taken this factor into account when talking about the total area needed to generate the world's energy needs from solar cells?


My Lords, I do not think that efficiency is particularly important when the source of energy is free. In fact the calculation of the area does take into account the efficiency of the conversion. I should not like to claim the ability to make the calculation: but if I were to tell the House who made this calculation it would he realised that it may be depended upon. I reiterate that the efficiency of the conversion is secondary in this matter.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question? Did he say 400 miles square or 400 square miles?


My Lords, I said 400 miles square; that is, 160,000 square miles. That represents only 0.1 per cent. of the earth's surface; and there is a lot of water to carry it on rafts.

There might he a great temptation to make this Committee or Commission to which I have been referring a European one, or even a world one. I believe that we must collaborate with other countries in what is a basic problem for the world; but if we want progress here then, whatever international bodies may be brought into existence, a powerful national body in each country in which the problem exists is essential, because national backgrounds vary so much. To illustrate that, it is only necessary to look at Norway or Central Africa where vast energy resources from water power exist and where consequently the problems are manifestly different from ours.

What I have said so far—and I am speaking at greater length than is usual for me in your Lordships' House—is concerned with primary sources of energy. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, in the second part of his Motion referred specifically to the implications for road transport and construction. As I have said, I believe that electrical energy will be required for land transport. If we assume that this is so, we perceive no difficulty in still further applying electrical energy to rail transport. A developing shortage of hydrocarbon fuels, however, makes it desirable to apply electrical energy to road transport—so long, of course, as you are not generating the electricity with hydrocarbon fuels.

Here I want to come to a device which I have mentioned before in this House and which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, in his remarks clearly expected me to mention again. I make no apology for doing so for I regard it as of vital importance. I am going to mention what is another-aspect of a device that I have talked about here before—and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will know what is coming. It is the linear induction motor. If and when a new motorway is being constructed there could be incorporated in it, just below the surface, the windings that make up the induction coils of the linear induction motor. These winding,: would take the place of the mat of heavy wire used at present. All that would be necessary for each motor vehicle would be to add a small flat plate underneath. The ordinary petrol, diesel, hydrogen-burning or methane-burning engine would be used on the by-roads, but when the vehicle reached the motorway it would he required to switch off its internal combustion engine and would proceed under the influence of electrical energy which, as I say, would not be produced by hydrocarbon fuels. That is not a dream, my Lords. Certainly it is not for to-morrow, but I suggest that it is something to be worked on so that a great road system independent of oil could be produced in the early years of the next century. It would be expensive, and for it to be economic the traffic density would have to be very high; but I think that we can confidently depend upon that. It appears to be an enormous project but I wonder how the idea of a nation-wide railway system appeared 150 years ago! It must have seemed almost beyond the power of man to create. With the constructional means at our disposal to-day, what I am talking about is eminently practicable and could be one of the projects on the agenda of the Standing Committee which I urge Her Majesty's Government to consider setting up.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, to the project for an Energy Commission, and to the whole question of the interchangeability of fuels raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, which are matters of very great moment I shall return presently. But first, surely we stand in double debt this afternoon. In the first instance—I think one should give this priority—to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, for a maiden speech which was inspiring, urbane, instructive and which I think, when we read it afterwards, we shall also feel was significant. Then secondly, to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for the timeliness of his introduction of this debate on enegy—as I think Byron called it, "The electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound". I must make an apology in advance to my noble friend who is to reply because it is possible that the Scottish engagement that I have later on this evening, which is of long standing, may prevent me from listening to that reply which we know from experience will be gracious and of course thoughtful and kindly, and I hope that she will excuse my absence on that account.

My Lords, we confront a new "October revolution", and things will never be quite the same again. Indeed, I would say, "Cheer up, my Lords, the worst is yet to come". It looks as if the Arab world, or a great part of it, has, at any rate for a time, declared economic war on many of the industrial nations, even if not on the Soviet Union. It is also as well to face the fact that for the most part the Arab States have no incentive to expand production, if only because they have no obvious way of spending the proceeds unless it were to purchase on one year's surplus revenues let us say the capital assets of B.P.. or on another year's surplus revenues those of the First National City Bank.

Even after the period of fantastic exponential growth that the industrial world has experienced since the war the energy shortage in general is surely relative rather than absolute. It is relative to cost—that is common ground throughout the debate. It is relative to the attainment of maximum flexibility and interchangeability in the use of resources—points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, just now; by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, when he referred to the need for massive investment in coal (and I agree), and by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, when he referred to the need for power stations to have a dual option as to the fuel to be used. The relativity relates, too, to the best balance of uses that we can attain; it relates to the best balance of social aims in our industrial and physical planning. The energy shortage is relative again to the strident notes of the environmental litany; it is relative to the attainment of maximum efficiency in use; and, finally, I believe it is relative to our own resolute concentration on the problems and the possibilities of the Continental Shelf.

So much has been focused on the North Sea that eyes have not yet been lifted to the greater horizons that lie about us. There is the Atlantic; there is our sovereignty over Rockall. But the Continental Shelf also exists wherever British territory exists overseas. It includes our island possessions around the globe, miniscule as each one may be yet balanced on a pinnacle from the ocean floor with shelf about it, and therefore now pregnant with untested opportunities at a hundred different points, thanks to the Geneva Convention.

My Lords, I believe our main concern tonight—and this has been touched on in different ways by those who referred to the need for an Energy Commission—is surely to ensure that as between all the Ministries involved there shall emerge an intelligible and a workable energy policy to enable Britain to attain the best energy balance at all times and to make sure that a proper energy agency exists to bring this about. Just consider the list of departments involved in one form or another: there are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Environment, and the Department of Education and Science. Each has a slant on the problem, each has a slot to fill in the jigsaw (if I may use that term) that should go up to make a comprehensive policy. We were comforted, some of us, to learn that the Oil Supplies Advisory Committee has now been reactivated; it has been taken off the shelf and given a dust. But that is an Oil Supplies Advisory Committee. Is that adequate for our overall energy needs?

For me it is always a pleasure, and is always instructive to listen to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. But amid his thoughtful and amiable assemblage of facts in speaking for the Government early in this debate I must confess that I still did not find it easy to discover either a clear policy or indeed a real reason for the decision to "duck" the issue of rationing or allocation of supplies. I know he will not take it as any personal offence from myself if I say that the policy statement we have listened to reminds me, for its obscurity, of that reference to Dr. John Donne in the 16th century. It was said of his verses that they were like the peace of God, they passed all understanding.

My Lords, balance and flexibility are manifestly needed; and this Motion does relate to road transport. There are expert researchers who have measured up the cost in British thermal units of different forms of freight transport. They put pipeline as the cheapest as needing 450 Btu's per ton mile, waterway transport at 540–that is 20 per cent. more—rail transport at 680–that is more than 50 per cent. more—and then trucking by road with all its convenience to the deliverer and the recipient at 2,340 Btu's per ton mile—that is more than 500 per cent. more. Whatever be the merit of those figures, surely they argue one point, which is the case for taking more seriously than this Government have hitherto done the problem of reactivating and redeveloping our inland waterways system; and this may be an opportunity to put in a plea to Mr. Rippon for some favourable thought about the British Waterways Board's plan to spend £3 million in upgrading the Sheffield/South Yorkshire Canal so that barge tonnage capacity may be raised from 100 tons to 700 tons.

Another aspect is surely the whole approach to regional industrial development. The heaviest industrial consumers of energy, whatever be the source of the energy—natural gas, oil, hydro or nuclear—are the power stations, the oil refineries, the bulk chemical manufacturers, steel making, the aluminium smelting and uranium enrichment. Surely one conclusion from the present crisis must be that it is to our national advantage, long term, to try to focus these critical industries around the sources of power, so far as that can be done, either on top of the coalfields if they can be brought to life again, or at any rate within reach of deep water terminals for oil and bulk raw materials; yet just lately we have seen the National Ports Council's splendid project for Maritime Industrial Development Areas given a tearless pauper's funeral by a low level, part-time, interdepartmental working committee set up by this Government in those far off days when they professed their Whiggish faith in laissez-faire, "lame ducks" and nonintervention.

My Lords, we cannot really look at the energy problem and blind ourselves to the possibilities of the Continental Shelf all over the world. More than 10 per cent. of the world's natural gas and approximately 20 per cent. of the world's crude oil already comes from the Continental Shelf somewhere or other around forty different countries. There is already a serious likelihood that the British Shelf may well in volume terms—I stress that—furnish a substantial part of our oil needs in the mid-1980s, if not sooner, and the prospect could be a good deal better than that if one listens to the thinking that is current among the exploration experts. Yet even that ignores the potential of our island possessions overseas to which I have already referred. It may well be that in the coming fifty years Britain need not be content with the pigmy role between the Continental giants to which we have submitted of late.

For once, my Lords, I have a bouquet for the Government Front Bench. I notice that they do not duck, nor do they look round. But the Government are to be congratulated on the measures announced yesterday to assist the university provision of faculties for petroleum technology at Imperial College and Aberdeen University. This comes not one single day too soon. The shortage of physicists, of petroleum geologists and engineers is so grave that, following Parliamentary Answers given in this House, it is plain that the entire complement of such persons working in the D.T.I. Petroleum Divisions to deal with the whole of the United Kingdom Continental Shelf is on a scale that a major oil company would use for one oil field alone. It is not only a question of how to pay these people. The shortage of manpower in this field is itself clamant and overriding. Therefore, when I congratulate the Government on facing up to this I do so with this query, to ask whether perhaps the Government could look at the business of hiring, at no matter what price worthy in the competitive market, others of whatever nationality who might be available to assist.

The unfolding of our licensing policy for the forthcoming round of licensing requires a very careful, thorough and sophisticated appraisal of the resources believed to lie round our coasts. There are top petroleum consultants of world standing who believe that somewhere between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. of our potential resources round those coasts are in areas not yet offered for licensing. Certainly, of the 1,500 blocks already offered only about 500–that is, the ones now being intensively surveyed for production—have been subjected to a very close narrow grid seismic survey. Much of the early surveying is outdated, as was shown when, I think it was, the Burmah Oil Company took up part of a block abandoned by the Gas Corporation about two years ago and promptly found gas where the Corporation had been unable to find it—simply because the seismic survey was re-done later by more sophisticated methods.

In any case, my Lords, seismic work in the past has been designed largely, and applied largely, to the identification of structures, whereas new opportunities are now recognised to exist for identifying what the oil men call stratigraphic opportunities and pinch-outs. What is urgent for our future approach to the offshore oil policy of the United Kingdom is the encouragement of much more seismic work. Again I ask the Government to consider, as at Question Time I have done once or twice, whether extra work might not be encouraged if companies engaging in this were allowed to put their contribution to it forward as a part qualification when applying for the next round of licences; and secondly, whether such exploration work might not be counted as a credit towards current programmes.

My Lords, there are two major external political points germane to this whole subject. The first relates to France. There are those who believe that the Celtic Sea and the Western Approaches are also a very promising area for exploration. But the issue of licences in that part of the world has been to some extent restricted by the fact that we have not yet reached agreement with France to delineate our respective areas of responsibility. It would he helpful if the noble Baroness, Lady Young, could tell us a little more about that. Surely she will know that during the summer I put Questions to my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie on the subject and she at once said that if agreement could not be reached quickly it might be necessary to insist on a strict interpretation of the median line. I hope that we may have a word about that.

My second point in the field of foreign policy relates to our attitude to the energy thinking in the European Economic Community. On November 22 last year, which is almost exactly a year ago, my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn asserted very firmly, as is reported at column 1019 of Hansard, that our resources in the North Sea are national assets and will be treated as such. I hope that there has been no deviation from that healthy position, and I hope that my noble friend Lady Young will be able to confirm that. Here is a critical resource that is under our control in the light of our international convention which has been widely ratified. In many respects it may well be the key to our future and if we allow any weakening on that front we might lay ourselves open to the charge of Pascal who said: We run carelessly to the precipice after we have put something before us to prevent us from seeing it.'

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for initiating this debate. We all realise that when his Motion was originally tabled, several months ago, the world situation was totally different from what it is to-day. Events since then have moved so rapidly, with the catastrophe which has overtaken the Middle East, that I hope I may be forgiven if I devote my remarks more to the first part of the Motion, dealing with the impending world oil shortage, and leave the implications for road transport to the experts who have already spoken and those who are to follow.

May I also sincerely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Denman, on his excellent maiden speech? He made a valuable contribution to our debate this afternoon. I should find myself going quite a long way with him but for one overriding fact; that is, that the Arab nations, with their vast oil resources, have used this oil wealth for political ends. That. I believe, is quite an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the world's oil problem. Particularly is this so in the case of Holland. We know that Holland has been deprived for actions which she may or may not be held culpable. To use oil as a weapon to gain certain political advantages, and to penalise a country like Holland which is not even directly implicated, is, to my mind, an abuse of the oil wealth which those countries possess. Your Lordships may have noticed in the leading article in last night's Evening Standard a sentence which seems to sum up well the present oil situation. It said: Seldom has British foreign policy cut a more humiliating figure … exemplified first in the Government's duplicity towards Israel, and now in its humiliating attempts to win a few weeks' grace from the Arab countries before the fuel cut-off begins to bite here as well, as it certainly will eventually. My Lords, what exactly is "eventually"? We had better face up to the prospect now. It is probably much nearer than we think. We all know, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, mentioned in his opening speech, that the demands of the blackmailer tend to become more and more extortionate with the progress of time. How far are we now prepared to submit? Is the whole of our economy really at the mercy of a handful of Arab sheiks in the Persian Gulf? If so, to what lengths will our submission have to go?

The irony of it all is that if a small task force were landed today on the Southern shores of the Persian Gulf the whole of these petty oil sheikdoms would collapse like a house of cards, and the entire civilised world would be delivered from its nightmare. And yet, is there any possible alternative? Britain alas! in her folly has withdrawn from the Persian Gulf. We have fallen from grace ever since 1956 when we failed in our objective to internationalise the Suez Canal. But our withdrawal from the Persian Gulf less than two years ago is now seen to have been a colossal blunder of the first magnitude. It was an example of scuttle at its worse.

My Lords, today the Russian and American fleets control the Indian Ocean. There is no-one left to look after Britain's interests in that part of the world. So now we must accept whatever terms these Arab sheiks continue to inflict on us. I would ask the noble Baroness who is to reply: Is that really our position today?

Nor do we stand alone in our misery and humiliation. The vast sub-continent of India, with its 500 million inhabitants, twice the population of the whole of Western Europe, has already increased the price of its oil by over 50 per cent., and may soon be faced with famine on a colossal scale. We may save our skins in Britain for a brief while, but what of the fate of millions of our fellow citizens in other countries of the Commonwealth?

My Lords, the key to the whole situation must lie in the hands of the two super Powers, especially in the hands of Russia, whatever may be the outcome of the present Kissinger negotiations. The effectiveness of the détente now lies entirely with her. I would ask the noble Baroness: Are we today in any position at all to influence Russia's course of action? If the answer to that is "No", then we might just as well put up the shutters all over Europe. For against Russia the Common Market countries cannot help us. They cannot even help us against the Arabs. But Russia has a special obligation towards India, her ally. She has already been spurned by Egypt in the past. Will she unswervingly support Egypt in the future, or turn to help the starving millions of India? They, too, are largely dependent on Arab oil. Do we in Britain still have any influence at all with Russia, to urge upon her the right course she should take? Can the noble Baroness hold out any hope at all in this direction? Is it any use talking to Russia's Ambassador to Britain, or do we have a hot line direct to the Kremlin? It is in the Kremlin alone that decisions will have to be taken, either to abandon us to the mercies of the Arab oil sheiks, or to bring a new ray of hope to the struggling millions all over Europe and Asia.

Why, ever since the war, have we tolerated double standards imposed on civilised Europe by the smaller nations of the world? Why can Libya and Uganda seize British property with impunity, hurl insults at us and humiliate us, without any fear of redress? But we, the so-called great Powers, have to grovel before the oil sheiks of the Persian Gulf, begging to them not to withhold from us their bounty of oil. And there are other double standards that face us to-day. Syria can torture its Israeli prisoners and withhold their names from the International Red Cross in direct breach of the Geneva Convention. Egypt can barter its Israeli prisoners for a strip of Sinai, and abandon the 20,000 troops of its Third Army to the mercy of the Israelis, knowing full well that the Israelis can be trusted to show them mercy and allow convoys of food and water to be passed through to them day by day.

As between callous indifference to suffering, on the one hand, and humane civilised standards on the other, Britain has now ranged herself on the side of those who perpetrate barbarities and who trample on the Geneva Convention. So we hope to avoid petrol rationing for just so long as it may please our Arab masters to supply us. Is it any wonder that our national newspapers are driven to explain: Seldom has British foreign policy cut a more humiliating figure. My Lords, I can only conclude by reechoing the invocation of the poet Wordsworth as he would have applied it to that great Englishman whose statue was unveiled last week in Parliament Square: Winston, though shouldst be living at this hour, England hath need of thee: she is a fen of stagnant waters: Oratory, sword and pen Have forfeited their ancient English dower of inward happiness. We are selfish men, O raise us up, return to us again, And give us honour, virtue, freedom, power! To-day his voice is silent. Instead we still hear the tones of the Man of Munich, waving his scrap of paper in the air: I have brought back peace with honour. My Lords, if this is peace, then it is but a brief, transient, uneasy peace—a peace that is not devoid of shame.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by offering my humble congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, whose speech was not only brilliant but marvellously brief. I am embarrassed to think that I shall speak for much longer than he did, and probably to much less purpose.

I must declare an interest. My concentration on the subject of transport has been wonderfully sharpened by the publication of a map showing plans to bring a six-lane motorway across my land in Warwickshire, meeting a dual-carriageway relief road across my oak plantations, cutting off my dairy farm buildings from the grazing pastures and bringing to an end a period of prosperity which it has taken me twenty years to achieve. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, not only for having initiated this timely debate, but particularly for using the words road construction", which is what I should like to talk about.

"Development" has become a dirty word. This is not merely because we are, in a non-political sense, a conservative people with a basic dislike of change: it it because in our daily lives we are seeing around us in both town and country the destruction of the old and the beautiful and its replacement by something new and ugly, out of which we suspect that somebody is going to make an excessive profit. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the loss of amenity that is inevitably connected with the word "development". Of all forms of development, one of the most long-lasting—indeed almost permanent—is the building of a motorway. It would therefore seem logical to think about 'motorways not just in the context of our transport requirements for the next ten to twenty years but in the framework of our national interests for the next two or three generations.

If, as I suspect, Members of the Government are frankly too busy and too much under pressure from immediate problems to take a long-term view, then it may not be presumptuous for Members of this House to offer some ideas. The Government's transport policy is, in my opinion, completely out of date. The White Paper, Inter-urban Roads, published nearly three years ago, proposed a strategic road network—some of it to be provided by new motorways, some by the improvement of existing roads and some represented by diagrammatic lines showing mere possibilities. Some of those possibilities, planned in the 1960s for what then seemed the country's needs, are now being urged forward. I must admit that I was really disappointed to find that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, appeared not to have moved forward in any way from that White Paper which, as I say, was published nearly three years ago. In the 1960s, both Europe and America appeared to be living in conditions of general surplus. We had plenty of food, reserves of minerals and masses of fuel. Ever-increasing consumption and ever-growing business and personal expenditure, with at least one car for every family, seemed to be both desirable and possible. That was in the 1960s.

As we now know, the outlook for the immediate future, let alone the next contury, is very different. It is painfully obvious that petrol will increase in price so that, even if there is no shortage or rationing, the idea of driving for pleasure will become as extravagant as it is eccentric. With very expensive fuel, one can anticipate a change in ordinary car design to concentrate on low fuel consumption, which must mean a reduction in speed. So far as I know, nobody has ever suggested that there is a cheap fuel which can make cars actually go faster. As road capacity increases in inverse ratio to the speed of the traffic, a general reduction in speed would imply that many more vehicles could comfortably use our existing roads. At the same time, the present disparity between the cost and speed of freight traffic on roads, as compared with rail, may well disappear—or, with a little encouragement, even change in favour of rail. Under those conditions—and I am not looking very many decades ahead—the motorway system now being planned for high-speed long distance traffic will be already obsolete. One can imagine a six-lane motorway being used only by buses, lorries on short journeys, a few cars going rather slowly and the occasional millionaire trying out his Lamborghini—lovely for the millionaires, but possibly not what the motorway planners had in mind. If, on the other hand, there is to be no fuel crisis; if we are going to have unlimited cheap petrol from beneath the North Sea; and if Government policy remains unchanged, then the motorways, and indeed all the roads, will obviously not be empty. On the contrary, they will all be entirely full of almost stationary traffic. So the object of moving goods rapidly across the country will still not be achieved.

My Lords, from time to time we are told that to provide a fast and efficient railway system for both freight and passengers would cost more than we can afford. I do not believe that. Nor do I believe that the true cost of motorways has ever been fully appreciated. Whether they cost £,1½, million a mile, or £2 million, or even more, is not really the point. The point is that the countryside is being inexorably destroyed. Land is the most valuable asset we have, and we cannot make any more of it. England really is "this precious stone set in a silver sea", and it cannot be enlarged. No less than 300 miles of motorways are now being planned for the Midlands alone. Every mile of motorway uses forty acres of land. Forty acres of land can, and in Warwickshire last summer did, produce 80 tons of wheat. Forty acres can, and in Warwickshire do, produce 36,000 gallons of milk every year; forty acres can, and do, produce 24,000 lb. of beef every year; forty acres can, and do, produce 14,000 lb. of the best English lamb every year; or one mile of motorway.

In an industrial nation there must always be some loss of farmland, some threat to the environment. At the moment, there is no greater threat to the environment than that from the Department of the Environment, whose motorway planning actually does threaten the complete and permanent destruction of hundreds of acres of some of the most beautiful, the most fertile and the most productive land in the world. Every year the British farming industry produces more food from fewer acres. Every year people in less happy lands are dying of starvation. It is monstrous, it is immoral and it is utterly unjustifiable to destroy good farmland in this way. I use the word "destroy" deliberately: there can be no more permanent way of destroying land than to put a motorway over it. To sow it with salt would be comparatively ineffective. When motorways are no longer needed, they will remain as useless and ugly as disused wartime aerodromes. Those acres of concrete and tarmac will not grow corn or grass or trees for many generations. They will remain a monument to short-term, shortsighted planning, a lasting memorial to the priority given to the road construction industry by a Secretary of State for the Environment who did not care enough for the environment.

If that seems too harsh a judgment, may I remind your Lordships that the Department of the Environment are at this very moment planning to bring a motorway across the park at Petworth. I have never seen Petworth; but I understand that it is a place of quite exceptional beauty, regarded by many as one of the finest achievements of English landscape planning—and a source of immense pleasure to the thousands of people who visit it while it is open to the public every year. It seems almost inconceivable that the Department of the Environment could even contemplate such an appalling act of vandalism.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Marquess, but he is not correct in saying that the Department of the Environment has plans for a[...] motorway across Petworth Park.


My Lords, that is the best news I have heard for a very long time. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for telling me that.

Although the Government's motorway policy is based on false assumptions, wholly out of date, ruinously expensive and politically and economically idiotic, I should like to express a mild appreciation for some efforts which I think are being made to mitigate to some extent the very real hardships caused by this policy. There is talk of less inadequate compensation for loss of home, land and livelihood; there is to be, I believe, a contribution to the cost of double-glazing for people who will have to keep their windows hermetically sealed, day and night, summer and winter alike, to shut out the noise of traffic coming from what were once the quiet pastures round them; there is even talk of keeping the public informed and of allowing public participation in road planning.

This is fairly gratifying; but may I try to present to your Lordships a picture of what is actually happening now in the Midlands? I ask your Lordships to imagine a middle-aged couple who have lived and worked all their lives in Birmingham. With immense difficulty they find the cottage of their dreams, within commuting distance of his job, on the edge of a pretty village, with a garden of their own and a peaceful view over their neighbour's farm. Using all their savings and borrowing on a mortgage, they buy the cottage. For years their every leisure hour is spent on improving their home and its garden: not the sort of improvements that one puts in an income tax form, but the sort that take a long time and give endless satisfaction afterwards, like planting trees and shrubs or creating a rock garden, or making a cupboard to fit a particular corner. They make friends in the village—they create a home. Then they hear a rumour: there is to be a motorway. At first they do not take it seriously. "It couldn't happen here", they think. Then the local paper publishes a map. They see a heavy black line drawn across the farm meadows; but from the map they cannot tell if it is near their garden or even over it, or over their very home. Naturally they try to find out. They are not helpless, or stupid: they write to the Department of the Environment, to their Member of Parliament, to the Midland Road Construction Unit, to their local council, and they make as many inquiries as they can from anyone they think of; but they do not find out. The answer is always the same. It is always, "It has not yet been decided".

Hearing nothing further, they begin to relax—perhaps it was only a rumour. A year later, they get a nasty shock. A worried neighbour tells them that while they were out some men have been in their garden, apparently either taking soil tests or measuring heights. They dis- cover that these men were from the Midland Road Construction Unit, so they write to that Unit. They get no answer. Well, I do not, so I assume they will not. They write to the Secretary of State for the Environment, and quite soon they receive a post-card saying that their letter is receiving attention. Eventually they are told that the Road Construction Unit employees would have asked their permission to enter their garden had they been at home at the time, and that they were only carrying out a feasibility study about which nothing had yet been decided. By now they are thoroughly alarmed. Retirement age is not far off. If they are going to have to move eventually, should they start at once to look for a new home? If they put theirs on the market, would it be dishonest not to warn the purchaser of the motorway threat? And if they do give that warning, will their old house possibly fetch what their new one will certainly cost? Those are not hypothetical questions, my Lords; they are being pondered over in thousands of English homes this very night.

Let us suppose that they decide not to move before they must—after all, there is a world shortage of fuel. They find out the procedure for participation in a public inquiry. They discover that the Road Construction Units can deploy a mass of expertise to prove that the motorway ought to go where they decide. It is up to objectors to produce valid reasons for putting the motorway somewhere else. It is difficult to do this without employing expert advice, whether on transport problems or on legal problems. Expert advice is expensive which is why groups of people, all over the country, are now banding together and trying to raise money to defend their own environment against their own Government. That, my Lords, is a situation of which the Government should be thoroughly ashamed. There is, at the moment, no way in which objectors can be reimbursed their often heavy expenses. If you win the case (which I understand is not entirely impossible) you may think the money well spent. If you lose the argument, you lose your land and you lose your money too. That is the position.

If you are reluctant to push the proposed motorway on to your neighbour's land (which may well be just as produc- tive and just as beautiful as your own, and just as accessible for the enjoyment of the general public) then you can, it has now been established, question the need for the motorway to be built at all. That is excellent; but there is a good deal of doubt as to just how effective any such questioning of the need, as opposed to the route, may be. If I may quote from a letter from the Department of the Environment about the current M.42 (Bromsgrove section) inquiry, it says: As counsel for the Department made clear, it is for the inspector to decide what evidence he may choose to put and which he considers relevant. He is obliged to report on any evidence which he does decide to accept to the Secretary of State, who must consider his report before coming to a decision. None the less, it has been a policy decision of the Government to provide the country with a strategic network of modern roads, of which the route under consideration is proposed to form part. This policy is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and Parliament to determine. While it is for the inspector to decide whether objections based on a questioning of the merits of this policy are relevant and should be heard, it can hardly be right for Departmental officials to debate these policies at a local public inquiry. It has always been made clear that it is not the function of the representatives of a Government Department at a local inquiry to answer questions directed to the merits of Government policy. In the present case, therefore, the Department does not propose to give evidence in support of these policies, or to seek to rebut arguments about the merits of them put by objectors. Perhaps the message implicit in that letter could have been more succinctly expressed by that old familiar phrase: "The gentleman in Whitehall knows best".

Accepting that Government policy is indeed a matter for Parliament, and leaving my mythical but entirely typical Midlands couple in a state of ignorance and suspense about their future, I should like to pose some questions to my noble friends on the Front Bench. May I ask when Government transport policy was last fully debated in another place, and when it will be again? Has any attention at all been given to the debate in this House of last March 7, and in particular to the remarkably useful speech then made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton? Would the Government be prepared to consider the appointment of a Royal Commission, or any similar body, to study the whole question of a national transport policy with a particular brief to examine the possibility of so improving the railway service as to attract heavy freight off the roads and on to rail? And will the Government stop the building of any more motorways until a report on transport policy has been received and approved by both Houses of Parliament?

My Lords, these are not frivolous questions. We all suffer from heavy traffic and we all appreciate the use and the value of motorways—I travelled on the M.4 this morning. It is pleasant to save ten minutes on a journey—but at what a cost, my Lords, to England's green and pleasant land; what a cost in terms of real human unhappiness to those whose homes become unendurable; what a cost in land, in amenity, in the quality of life as we live it! It really is not worth it. The Government's transport policy is motorway madness, and it must he stopped.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, the highest tribute I call pay the noble Marquess who has just sat down is that I will not add any further comment on his speech. He has made his case; he has touched the hearts of most noble Lords who listened, even though they realise the problems of road construction and so on. As a former Member of the House of Commons who has gone through these troubles with constituents, I have had to face in Lancashire the problems he now faces in Warwickshire. I should like to leave his admirable speech untouched and un-spoilt by any further observation of mine. Indeed, I was in some difficulty as to what to say in this debate and I am beginning to realise that nobody has any increasing desire for anyone to say anything. To start with, I was under the impression that we were to have a debate about buses in Devon-shire lanes, and I put my name down in the hope that we should wander round the violet banks, which I have for so long been deprived of seeing; perhaps follow in the steps of Sir Joshua around that beautiful country. I was not so naïve as not to realise that we would probably later follow Mr. Holman Hunt to the shores of the Dead Sea in search of a scapegoat, and in view of the closure of the Suez Canal I was not wholly un- provided to anticipate that we might take the long voyage via Australia.

I was very sad to hear the opening sentences of the noble Lord who introduced this debate with so much genuine and sincere entertainment and information; he is always one whom I like to hear. He has rather changed his views recently about the Government of Australia, but I fancy that if I were to talk about the problems of the Aborigines even this gentle and courteous House would really begin to think that we had gone a little wide of the Motion. I followed in thought with him to Vladivostok; I followed him when he went down between Omsk and Tomsk into the oil pipeline to Riga. I lost touch with him for a moment, owing to a petty perambulation of my own, but I am entirely with him on muck. On muck he is sound; on muck we are talking of something I know about. I have grown my own mushrooms and I should like to tell him that muck from horses fed on corn—to wit, in those days pit ponies—is even warmer. Only last night at home we were discussing the problem whether, if we were suddenly struck by an electric stoppage, we should be "blacklegging" if we cooked the steak upon the compost heap. It can be done; the heat is undoubtedly there. But that apart I should like to cut short by saying that in 1929 we really did produce a coal and power programme. I was hoping to escape in this speech without any controversial word, but looking at my noble friend Lord Segal, I may have a word to say.

I do not think that Her Majesty's Conservative advisers have always been benevolently minded towards the coal industry. There have been moments when we have felt that the fact that coal miners used to elect 50 Labour Members a year was not wholly absent from being considered in terms of energy policy. I do not want to say any more about that. But I do want to add that a further welcome should be given to this debate because we were told by the Prime Minister quite recently that the tragic economic troubles of the Government were mostly a matter of temperature, and that temperature is really one of the vital problems to which we have to turn our minds.

David Lloyd George, in 1929 produced a coal policy—and I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that I was privileged to attend the first of the series of Liberal revivals in by-election victories which had become very common talk then. We won Market Bosworth, where I live, and we won Leith, where the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, who has spoken so admirably to-day, has a considerable interest. I took part in both by-elections. We had a luncheon at the Hotel Metropole to celebrate, and we toasted the comeback of the Liberals. I stood at that election with instructions to save my deposit—not that it was my deposit; it was the Liberal Party's deposit. I duly discharged that duty, but only by a short head. That was 46 years ago. And they are getting a little bit tiresome now, I think. They are getting just repetitive, and not with any very great effect. But, as I was saying. David Lloyd George produced a policy of using our vast resources of coal—and they are still vast. Indeed, many more have been proved recently. I remember "Nye" Bevan once saying that this was an island of solid coal surrounded by fish and it took a Conservative Government to get a shortage of both at the same time.

There was planning of coal production, planning of coal utilisation, utilising it for the production of aniline dyes, chemicals and a vast variety of subjects; and all the experts said this was feasible. Many of the economists said that it was not economically practicable. What was economically practicable in 1929 could hardly be less practicable now, with the development of science and the development of machinery since. And this was our great asset when going into the Common Market; when we talked about United Europe and when my partner was writing books at my expense about united Europe in the office (but do not tell the income tax people) we talked about Scotland producing seed potatoes and Britain providing all the best coal for Europe and so on—planned production, planned distribution, energy policy, and preparation for the future. No expert then dreamed, of course, that oil production was going up as it did.

I confess only too willingly that I have been a chronic insomniac: I have lain awake at night worrying about the fate of Her Majesty's Ministers, who are such charming people and always so polite and always so courteous. I felt that they must feel it very deeply when they realise what an economic tragedy and economic mess they have brought this country into. When the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, had "blown the gaff", either by accident or by design, for that to be followed by apparently an oil tragedy must have added greatly to their worries. I was therefore glad to hear from the Prime Minister that it was purely a matter of temperature; that lack of snow on the Steppes had produced a shortage of wheat, both in the U.S.S.R. and in China, which is a rather long way from the Steppes—although we covered it very rapidly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford. I am not sure, but I think it was a lack of rain which knocked us over the soya bean industry. He did not mention, of course, that soya beans can also be used for fuel; and the price rose from 3 dollars a bushel to 12 dollars a bushel in 24 hours on the Chicago Commodity Exchange, by gambling in commodities, which is contributing more to world inflation than any other single activity, just as tax dodging is contributing quite a lot to our own economic difficulties. They are problems that we might look at together. Indeed, I was going to suggest it a little later. Snow on the Steppes; and of course the poor anchovy was deprived of its warm current and therefore there was no fish-meal to develop our animals. "How", said the Prime Minister, very fairly, "can we be blamed for this?"

The Prime Minister is always so interesting that he stimulates even me to thought or to recollection. I recall to-day February, 1947, when I was at home in Leicestershire and the telephone bell rang and I heard the familiar voice of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who said, "You've got to be up in London to-morrow, as early as you can. You had better come up to-night." I said, "Don't be so damned silly. There's three foot of snow outside. I can't move. My car is frozen in the garage. I'm two miles from the station and there's only one slow train. It's 110 miles and I've got a two-mile walk." He said," I don't care. They've put down a Motion of Censure on us." I said, "What about?" He said, "About the snowstorm." But this is true; and I came up. In those days I was full of fervour and developed warmth by emotion. And they did move a Vote of Censure, and I had to speak in that debate. I remember meeting Lord Wigg (as he now is) at the Ministry of Fuel and Power that day, and it was perhaps the coldest place in Britain. Three years later there was trouble in the Middle East. There was a new Prime Minister of Iran and a dispute with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company—the sort of thing that we brush aside now as one of those little things that is bound to happen in a complicated world and that we must not talk about. The newspapers were full of Mr. Mossadeq. The things they said about him were absolutely disgraceful, and the things they said about the Government were not much less violent. Anyone who cares to turn up the newspapers for that day will feel a sense of shame at what was being done and said. We had debate after debate on the subject and the Irani production of oil was inconsiderable in those days. I noted with delight that the present Lord Davies of Leek got up in that debate in 1951 and said: "Let us get round the table with the oil producers. Here is a great problem for the future—let us at the earliest possible moment (whether before settling this or not) get all the oil-consuming and the oil-producing countries round a table".

I listened with great interest to the speech made to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Denman. I hope he is not sitting there without food as a pure matter of courtesy, because he has earned some. His speech was one of the most reassuring and most informative I have heard for some time. I venture humbly to congratulate him, although I am nearly a new boy myself. I understood him to say, if I heard his figures correctly—and my hearing is a little defective—that the price of oil f.o.b. Abadan is to-day of the order of about 6p a gallon. I understood him to say 2 dollars for a 36 gallon barrel, and that reduces the problem a little nearer to its correct proportions. Whatever he said, he sounded reassuring, he sounded informative and he sounded very knowledgeable. We all listened to him with attention and look forward to hearing him again.

There is one other thing I want to say, and I had better say it now. The news from the Middle East to-day is, up to now, very reassuring. I have had the privilege of the friendship of Jews and of enjoying their hospitality. Indeed, in that first election I think most of my supporters were Jews and I lived with a saintly Jewish lady for whom I retain a most sincere admiration. I was one who pledged my support for the independent Palestine, but we have to look at the situation as it is. I also had very friendly relations with the Arab countries in North Africa. The present Prime Minister of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, came to me in exile as a guest to the House of Commons. I had a message of happy remembrance from him quite recently.

A few years ago I was persuaded to make a brief visit to Iraq. I have not travelled very much; I know there are people in your Lordships' House who know much more about all these territories than I do. It was rather a clandestine visit and a slightly improper one. I went with the correct papers, but I went looking for political prisoners, and I took the opportunity of making clandestine visits to the leaders of the Left Wing Parties in Iraq (if there are any: I did not find them very "Left"), distinguished and brilliant men, one of whom said, "This place has really never recovered from the Turkish invasion". I wondered which Turkish invasion he was referring to. I think it was about 1450 when it started, and I said, "For God's sake! If I am taking your programmes back to the Arab students, can't you say something about stopping this hatred, this infiltration of poison?" He said: "We can't. Anyone who did not preach hostility to the Jews would have no chance of success in Iraq. Whatever we feel about it, it is planted in their minds when they are young, and that hatred is there". In fact, of course, many of the Parties encourage it as an excuse and an alibi for their economic failures.

But there has been arrogance on the other side. The Arabs suffered a terrible humiliation in the six-day war, and Egypt has shown towards this nation, towards Western Europe, a measure of generosity which is very remarkable. For the last 600 years the favourite preoccupation of the Western European nations has been to go and bomb Alexandria or Cairo. It has happened constantly throughout the centuries, starting with the Crusades and Louis IX at Damietta, going on through the long history of the Napoleonic invasion—even the Grand Old Man", I am sorry to remind the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, quite suddenly took it into his head to bomb Cairo and said that he had been forced into the position by his predecessors in Government and had not realised what the position was until he got there. I think that was about 1874 or 1880.


My Lords, I think it was 1874.


Yes, my Lords. The Egyptians have still been friendly. They made us a generous gesture last year in lending us the treasures of Tutankhamun. They are a friendly people and a more outgoing people than some of the Middle Eastern peoples, and they seem to have made the first step to-day.

What I wanted to say to the House—and I will say it quite quickly—is this. In the principal prison in Iraq I saw a lady, alone; classic, well-cut features, a face of deep pallor—a face I can see now—and I said, "May I speak to her?" They said, "She does not speak any Western European language", and the prisoners with whom I was establishing friendship confirmed this, so I could trust that it was true. No one spoke to her. She was a Jewess who had married an Arab and been divorced and her children taken away. She was Rachel weeping for her children and could not be comforted." That is the real victim of arrogance and hatred and we have to beware of sometimes following that example. That is the real victim; the simple person without power whose life is distorted by hatred and betrayed by these international animosities. If we get this war settled, thanks to the Nine Powers, thanks to Dr. Kissinger, thanks to the sense of Egypt or of Israel, let us make a start to try to dissipate the hatred to see whether we can get understanding, because without understanding that society can never long survive in peace. When we have done that, if it is not irrelevent to say so—and I will close on this point—it would not be a bad idea if, on energy, the two Parties here started to try to reach a little understanding and to do justice to coal and to our own resources to try to see whether they can evolve a fuel and an energy policy which will make a real and notable contribution to better living and better understanding in this great country of ours which needs understanding and which needs reform.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Hale, into the international aspects of the problem. I should like first of all to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for giving us the opportunity of discussing the Motion before us to-day, and especially for giving us the opportunity of listening for the first time to my noble friend, Lord Denman. We thank him for his most fascinating and informative speech. The particular aspect to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is the environmental one on which my noble friend Lord Hertford has already discoursed at some length. Therefore I confine myself to some particular points.

In his opening sentence, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, mentioned the electric car, and it is in relation to electric propulsion and road vehicles that I confine my remarks for part of my speech. I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to a document produced by the Civic Trust and addressed to her right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in October, 1970, in the early months of this Government, in which recommendations are made for limiting the size of road goods vehicles. This is closely related in fact to electrically propelled vehicles, because, of course, it is only in the lower range of weights that at the present moment electrically propelled vehicles are capable of moving. I feel that remarks made in July this year in your Lordships' House with regard to electric propulsion have been particularly relevant to the present crisis. I was somewhat chilled by what was said earlier by the noble Lord. Lord Kings Norton, with regard to the possibility of this vehicle not being as versatile as one would wish. He felt, I think, that the electric car was by no means a universal practical possibility, or at any rate certainly one with limited appeal. I see this, but I feel that we should consider the possibility of electric propulsion outside the range of milk floats and the delivery van. It seems to me that electric propulsion holds immediate possibilities for the next ten to fifteen years, especially in the context of the fuel crisis.

I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Young who is going to reply to the debate will be able to inform us on certain aspects of the road policy with regard to trunk routes and interchanges, where these are going to enable small-size road vehicles to take a portion of the very large loads from much bigger vehicles. Although there are difficulties, such as the twice handling of goods, delay, damage to goods and so on, this proposal appears to be highly desirable from an environmental point of view in keeping heavy road vehicles out of town centres. This policy has been underwritten in the Government publication Traffic in Towns. The chief difficulty is the electric battery. What the noble Lord. Lord Kings Norton, said about electric batteries was not particularly encouraging, because he related most of his remarks to the solar battery. I f feel that the solar battery is perhaps a generation away, but the electric battery, the light range of batteries which we are all hoping to see on the market, will be constructed of materials, possibly cobalt or other suitable lighter alloys, which will make this activity much more convenient.

I suggest there are five very good reasons why electric propulsion should be actively encouraged by Her Majesty's Government. There are no fumes, not too much noise, the vehicles are cheap to operate, simple to drive, there are no gears, and the basic mechanism has many fewer working parts than an internal combustion engine. I will not dwell much longer on the electric vehicle but would like to ask whether the Ministry of Technology and Messrs. Joseph Lucas, Limited, have been able to solve the problems to which they set their minds three years ago in developing a battery. I will not ask my noble friend to reply immediately, but could we have at a later date a Government Report on this very important development programme, to which £360,000 of funds were attached?

My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw (he may return before long), I should like to reassure him, as a humble Back-Bencher, that the Government's energy policy was given consideration very early in its life. As a resident in the Midlands, I felt that one of the most interesting decisions, taken as early as July, 1970, was in re- gard to a very important nuclear power station to be constructed at Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. This was the first proposed inland nuclear power station of a very considerable size, and one of the first acts of Her Majesty's Government was to consider that. from an environmental point of view, and also from a practical point of view, it was highly undesirable to have this power station on an inland site. I feel that this early decision shows the priority given to environmental considerations, and to the energy policy in particular. I should like to thank and congratulate the Government for doing that. This is the first opportunity I have had to do so in a debate.

I share many of the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Hertford on the Government's road policy. I appreciate that the environmental loss of land of up to 60,000 acres a year for every type of development—housing, roads, factories, warehousing space and so on —is one which this country cannot tolerate unless the shores of the island are extended substantially. T dare say we have had the most imaginative proposals laid before us at Maplin, but this will not solve the whole question. I should like to draw attention to Command Paper 5178, the Public Expenditure document for 1976–77, in which it is said that there will be a growth in the number of road vehicles from the present 151, million to 20 million by 1980. In the present circumstances. I question the broad assumption, which is tacit in the document, that all the time an almost endless expansion in the number of vehicles on our roads will be permitted. I wish to quote the document itself: Investment in roads could produce environmental and economic gains". That is true, but the economic losses must be set against this, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will listen most closely to what has been expressed in this debate.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, first and foremost T want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for having raised this fascinating debate and for his prescience in putting it down so long ago. May I say also that the noble Lord, Lord Denman, made a most constructive maiden speech, and one that was brought into shape by rasping reality because of his knowledge of the areas about which he spoke. All of us appreciated it, and have appreciated the fact that he has remained in the Chamber so long.

May I say to the noble Marquess, who is a man after my own heart, this has been a long debate, and how I would have loved, being a countryman myself, to ramble into the cogent and potent facts about the realities of life as compared with the concrete and steel that is being splurged all over this beautiful land. But he can take it from most of us in this Chamber that his facts about the reality of the countryside are unanswerable, and perhaps one of the old books that dealt with theocracy is right: … what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?". We are losing it and are becoming a neurotic nation, because of the lack of serenity and the speed at which we are living. In fact while here to-day I could still hear that great artist, Eartha Kitt, saying she wanted to hear the splurge of the oil barrels and to marry a millionaire with a car with a bowling alley in the hack. That seems to be the ambition of much of mankind.

How I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Segal when he thinks perhaps an attack in the Middle East would solve this problem of the oil wells in removing these little sheiks. But as the old tiger of France, Clemenceau, said long ago, a drop of oil is worth a drop of blood. I would recommend to noble Lords, if they can still find it, the famous book by Hannigan and Schizga called The Secret War for Oil. Now the documents are available in the Record Office, it would pay some of us to look up the record of Britain and its penetration in the then Persia, in the D'Arcy oil concessions. I had the privilege to be for some years the president of the Union of Democratic Control started by that great human Morrell, when we talked about red rubber, when Western man was getting the rubber from the Congo and the Amazon. A great uncle of mine worked at Kew on the rubber that we brought from the Amazon to grow. We found where the seeds would grow in the tropics in China and Malaya, but the punishment that Western man gave out to tropical man in that search and exploitation of rubber is one of the facts of life that we ignore. We are impaled on the horns of a dilemma. No longer can Western technology and Western man dominate the great spaces of the earth for these raw materials.

Some 13 years ago I wrote a little book, Oil is Inflammable, for the Union of Democratic Control. To show the influence of even under-developed countries on sophisticated ones, I found from an American Government journal that the amount of material imported from abroad to build one American jet plane in the 1960s was chromium, imported from abroad, 92 per cent.; nickel, imported from abroad. 97 per cent.; aluminium, bauxite, 76 per cent.; copper 35 per cent.; cobalt 88 per cent. I have made my case, the case being that mankind has to find an intelligent method of distributing and conserving the use of these vital raw materials to maintain the sophisticated civilised life, and, I hope, to maintain it with a certain amount of serenity and decency.

The topic of our debate to-day is "the impending world shortage of oil and its implications for road transport and … construction." Consequently, I do not want to be drawn too much into a foreign policy attitude. I would merely point out that if we were so unwise as to mount a military effort to get the oil we should get nothing at all; the oil famine would be greater still. One can no longer think of two super-Powers dealing with the Indian Ocean or dealing with the Pacific or dealing with oil supplies. I referred in my last speech to the fact that while America was talking about the Middle East and was in the grip of a President who at that moment seemed to be a bit sick and ill, who was about to make a nuclear threat, he had his officials in Moscow at one of the biggest American exhibitions that has ever been held, with oil machinery worth millions of dollars, making an oil agreement with the Soviet Union. That is why I was grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of a speech I made as long ago as 1951 about a world energy policy now being needed. I want to know whether our Government, not only with the Nine but at the United Nations, will press now more urgently than ever the need for a discussion between the oil producing areas and the great oil consuming areas on an international policy for oil.

The kaleidoscopic pattern of the distribution of oil is not merely in the Arab areas. Sometimes we ourselves have been too prolific in the way we have passed out our rights on the Continental Shelf. Both the Economist and the Guardian talk about the North Sea oil scandal, where for a fee of £6,250–that is all; I could have almost bought that concession with the help of my noble friend Lord Hale—the Occidental Oil Group obtained a licence for two years to explore one area South-East of the Orkneys now known to be among the richest undersea oilfields yet discovered. And for a further payment it can now exploit that oilfield for a profit running into hundreds of millions of pounds. I want to know whether we shall reassess our approach to these concessions, and whether the Government will themselves take a bigger share or get hold of these concessions for the people.

When we talk of nuclear energy (a subject in which I have been interested for many years, from some of the first lectures given by Lord Blackett and Oliphant and others which I attended) we have this loose talk of building in Stourport, and near the Severn, a nuclear station. Where are the industrial wastes to go? Are they to run into the salmon fishing river of the Severn? Is the world being told the real truth? When the Windscale atomic energy plant cracked the films at Kodak at Watford were affected by it. When the great one at Yugoslavia cracked much of the truth was not told. When the Astronomer Royal was measuring radioactive fall-out over London he was told not to measure radioactive fall-out: his job was to deal with astronomy.

The truth is that mankind is not sure, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, hinted, of what he is doing in the use of nuclear energy. Consequently, in the interim period we have to have a rethink its use. I do not want to scare people, but much more study is needed before we can take an all-out nuclear energy production policy as being safe. Consequently we are hurled back upon ourselves, and at the present rate of usage there is coal here for half a thousand years at least. Some of us were brought up in the country and in mining areas and deprecated the prolific way in which we cast aside pits which, with modern methods, could still be producing coal.

When I was a child there were 60 pits in the Rhondda Valley. There are only two there now. The valley was considered by my grandfather to be so narrow that the river ran sideways. Pits were closed, willy-nilly, and to-day we are hurled back upon them. Near a little farm where I was born and lived I walked on a railway track recently where there is no longer a railway. It was a threnody of destruction. All that was there were cobbles. The rails had been taken up and bushes were growing over the railway line, a line which had served a district where there is now a huge new road, with juggernauts running up and down and people's lives being made miserable. Think of the blood, muscle and wheelbarrows of the navvies of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, that built the great railways in Britain, a job bigger than the Pyramids. Then we suffered from "Beechingitis". We had marvellous details of how much more economic it would he if we closed these railways. I hope that the Government will do something about this, and reassess the use of railways in Britain.

The House and noble Lords have had enough speeches to-day. I want to bring out one other point, and then I will end, because so much has been said. I agree with the noble Lord who said that this crisis has crystallised our thought. The attitude of Britain will never be the same again, nor will the attitude of Europe and the world. There must be coordination. We should have thought of this when the Suez Canal was closed and we had to build tankers so big that they were even talking of building tankers that could not sail up the English Channel because there was not the necessary depth of water. We should have been thinking about a real energy policy in Britain. I think it was my noble friend Lord Hale who asked why we cannot, on both sides of the House and both sides of Parliament, institute a Fuel Commission, or some kind of research into the needs of this country, and to look at Britain's assets for an energy policy in the future. There is one asset that need not be scoffed at. Intelligently used, one of the great sources of energy is water. I believe that the canals of Britain, in a sensible energy and transport policy, could he used to-day for transporting thousands and thousands of tons of coal—for instance, in the Midlands. If a brewery is taking and burning 600 tons of coal a week, that coal could easily be delivered by canal just as rapidly as by one of these juggernauts, one of which nearly ran over three of us this afternoon when I was driving my car around Parliament Square.

Having spoken for thirteen minutes I will conclude with these words. I hope, without being too critical, that the Government will realise to the full the sincerity of every speaker who has spoken from both sides of the House to-day. There has been no bitterness or acerbity in the speeches, only a real feeling that something must be done and that England should take some leadership at least in a European energy policy.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, my brief intervention will be to raise three particular points, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, on the diligently prepared speech which held our attention. He must be very gratified with the many important contributions that have been made in this debate. I was particularly fascinated with the speech that we had from the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who, as we all know, speaks as an eminent and experienced authority. There were two other speeches that particularly attracted my attention; those made by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. They all sealed the great usefulness of this debate.

My first point is regret that, as others have felt, the Government have not seen fit to act more boldly and impose some form of limitation on the consumption of oil. We all know from experience of life that exhortation for a voluntary action has little impact on any problem. Surely it would have been wiser for the Government to take time by the forelock and demonstrate that they have all the machinery for swift action. At the moment we have the balance of payments so dangerous, we have the terms of trade, as shown this morning. 4 per cent. worse than in the previous month, following an increase of 5 per cent. in the cost of im- ports. Surely that could have justified the Government's taking some prompt action. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, assured us that the situation was being closely watched, that our stocks are high, and that there would be no hesitation, when necessary, to impose some kind of consumption control.

My second point is the action of the Arabs themselves. It is collusion with regard to the raising of prices. So far as I understand it, it seems a complete disregard for contractual commitments entered into. The word "blackmail" has been freely used in this House in connection with their action. For myself, I feel that we are attaching too much importance to this kind of action, however it may be described.

During the Statement made in this House to-day, I found myself in entire sympathy with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Hoy, when they referred to the inadequacy of the Statement of the noble Baroness, the Minister, who failed to give us the assurance asked for that the Statement made yesterday had actually been cleared with the Americans. I regretted, too, that she "ducked" the particular point about withdrawal from—not "the", or "all", but "occupied territory", and about how much limitation. Lastly—a worse omission still—there was no reference either to who were the known aggressors. Again the obvious thing to do in this situation, a point which this debate on oil emphasised, is to tell the contestants that they should get together at the same table and negotiate for a settlement. The Government continuously "duck" that point, which is the most important point of all.

That brings me to my third point; and here I must disclose an interest, because the firm to which I refer is one of which I am a shareholder and director. I give this as an illustration of the difficulty in the case of a subject which has been stressed by so many speakers in this House, and that is: Why do the Government not get on and take a bigger hold on the development of the North Sea oil? I am not an engineer and I do not understand the subject in detail, but I sympathise with the pressure which has come, particularly from the other side of the House—rightly so, I think, because the prizes are great.

As an illustration, this company, in conjunction with a French engineering company, as partners, have already put a large platform into place in the North Sea, and are now seeking to develop another large platform. When I say "large", engineers will know that there are small ones and large ones, but I am told that this particular one, if built and when built, will be larger in area than the whole of the area covered by St. Paul's Cathedral. I therefore suggest that it is a pretty large structure out in the sea. This firm have an indication of intention that this will be taken up by one of the larger oil companies, a French oil company, and they have an illustration of the platform in use. They have made every proper approach to the Minister of State for Scotland, and the extraordinary thing to myself (and I think it is to others, too) is that apparently there is no obtainable site in Scotland on which this platform can be built. Certain conditions are of course necessary: the site has to be near sheltered deep water, so that the platform can be built on land and floated off into the sea, and then towed round into its position. This platform has therefore got to be built in Norway. The order is firm, and it is one which would involve some £14 million or more, with employment for 400 men. This order has to be lost because the platform cannot be built here: instead, it goes to Norway, where it will be built under these firm conditions.

I bring this up only because it seems that if one is to comply with the urgings for the development of the North Sea field considerable modification of the procedures will be required—protection against pollution and against environmental destruction, and so on. These are all important; but the Government have indeed a difficult task in deciding how these can be short-circuited, because presumably it will involve legislation going further than the existing safeguards for the community. But in any case, my Lords, it seems that this is an illustration of a practical possibility which has been lost like, presumably, many others have, and which has had to go overseas.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed. The noble Lord. Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who initiated this debate, started by saying that he raised it because of an Answer he got from the Front Bench to the effect that there were 35 years' supply of oil left in the world. I will not touch on anything which is happening to-day at all. I should really like to ask the Government whether they will consider looking back fifty years ago and, from that position, looking at what we have got to-day, to see whether we can get to a situation where we can look ahead to the next fifty years; and to appeal to them, so that we do not go building roads and undertaking projects which it is not going to be possible to fulfil; to set up a body which can keep under review all the facets of fuel consumption and which can have submitted to them for consideration and encouragement (by some of the young men of to-day about whom we do not know) ideas about such things as the future propulsion of vehicles and the use of fuels in industry. This body should be set up not merely to make a report but to be continuously a kind of standing commission which would report not only to this Government but to subsequent Governments.

It appears to me that as we are going on at the moment five years really does not give a Government very much chance in almost any field at this time, whether in the field of energy, industry or of the economy, to stop their opponents' course of action, to initiate their own and to get it going. Then it may be that, if the electorate do not agree with them, the circle has to start all over again. I feel most strongly that what is needed is a body which can keep ail this under review, and which can make reasonably intelligent forecasts as to the number of roads we require, what different types of transport should be encouraged, and so on. One of the most unhappy things which I think has happened is the abandonment of the hoverrail. I do not believe that if we had had a body studying this matter, looking ahead some 35 or 40 years, this Government or any Government would have abandoned an idea such as the hoverrail. That, my Lords, is all I am going to say to-night. Could we please set up a body which will consider all these matters and keep them permanently under review?

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, whatever one may say about the problems of liquid fuel supplies, road transport and road development, one has to come back to the basic fact that the motor vehicle, whether it carries goods or people, is the only vehicle that will give a door-to-door service. That is why people buy and use motor vehicles, and nothing we may say or that Governments may do will alter that fact. On that assumption, my Lords, let us look at the first question which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, raised: why do we need all these roads and facilities? This theme was echoed by my noble friend Lord Hertford and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who said, "Please will the Government stop the building of these motorways and major roadways and let us have a reappraisal". Happily, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, I think put paid to that plea when he said that we are going to spend more money this year on major road development than we did last year, and that we are going to complete our programme. Whether there is a liquid fuel crisis in terms of supply or in terms of cash, either will accentuate the need for an adequate road communication system. However much money is poured into railways or other forms of travel, the bulk of movement will be by road, and therefore the easiest, quickest, cheapest and most economical method of transport, whether it be in terms of quantity of fuel or price, will be to have an adequate network. I was glad to hear that reassurance from the Government.

On the international field I, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, was a little surprised not to have heard anything at all in the Declaration of the Nine regarding oil supplies and our responsibility to our Common Market colleagues regarding sharing or general responsibilities. It seems to me, without knowing overmuch about the political matters of this problem, that we should support our colleagues—whether we have an obligation under the Treaty to do so, I do not know. But certainly when one considers the loyalty of the Dutch to this country over a good number of years, through peace and war, it would seem a little short- sighted were we not to offer them what assistance we could in that matter.

My Lords, so much has been said this afternoon on so many aspects of the Motion that I thought it might be rather more helpful if I spent a short while on a more earthy, day-to-day topic. I propose to refer to the actual cost of liquid petroleum spirit as bought at the pump. I think I should declare a financial interest in this matter in that I am a director of a company that retails petrol. Much has been made recently of the increased cost of oil. In some respects, I am a little inclined to go along with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in his remarks in the debate on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech earlier in the week in regard to the price of oil. The pump price of petroleum, less tax, is 17.1p per gallon—3s. 5d. in old money, which I think is a lot easier to comprehend. Tax take 22.5p of the total content of the average four-star petrol and it is interesting that the tax content per gallon of petrol has remained unaltered for nearly four years. In that time, however, there have been eight price increases—wholesale price increases —which have amounted to 8.2p. So when one considers the actual price of the product, less tax, asked for at the pump, it is really a very small amount of money.

But what may interest your Lordships is that built into the pump price, less tax—the figure of 17.1p that I mentioned—is the iniquitous marketing technique (as I call it) whereby trading stamps and other incentives are used. I am quite sure your Lordships will accept the figures I give (I have taken them from one of my own petrol stations) as being illustrative of the general position. We pay 1.05p per gallon for trading stamps; that is 6.8p per cent. of the actual market price of the product, less tax. In recent years we have been obliged to carry out the major petrol companies' national promotion schemes which, on an average, have cost us about 0.53p per gallon—a further 3 per cent. of the total market price.

My Lords, you may have read that a number of the major petrol companies are discontinuing promotions—the national promotions which add about 0.5p a gallon. Make no mistake, my Lords! to-day the cost of trading stamps and promotional activities is added into the price or at pump. Some may argue that if we did not spend it that way we might spend it on newspaper advertising, and that it would be added in anyway. I personally rather doubt it. It is an iniquitous habit which has crept on us over the last ten or twelve years. It is interesting, as a side issue, that the American petroleum market appears already to he dropping trading stamps as not having quite the appeal thought.

If some greater encouragement could be given, perhaps by the Department of Trade and Industry, to the petrol companies, or to the market in general terms, w discontinue this iniquitous habit, it would be a good thing. The practice helps nobody but the user of petrol—not the purchaser, my Lords, because in 85 per cent. of cases the purchaser is another body, the company, who support the motor car either by supplying it and looking after the maintenance or by making a payment to the operator. If petrol companies could be discouraged from using these two marketing aids, which account for about 1.7p of the price of one gallon of petrol we should thereby save the next one and a half price increases based on the last four price increases of somewhere around 1p a time. As so much of our day-to-day living is centred on transport, this could make a fairly useful contribution. I can tell your Lordships, too, that looking after stamp promotions and other promotional activities is, apart from the cash involved, a pretty expensive and traumatic experience; and I suppose that if one added the petrol companies' share of costs, we might even see something like 2p a gallon as a price reduction that could be quite easily achieved. This I think would make a real difference.

My Lords, it is late. One would have liked to say quite a lot more about motor vehicles and their usage, but I will resist that temptation on this occasion. I am quite sure that we shall have another occasion. Road transport matters always excite the interest of your Lordships' House and they appear on our programme fairly often.

I would close, however, with one comment. I was just a little disturbed when my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said in his opening remarks, that the Government were keeping the matter of petrol supplies, the availability, well under review and were in a state whereby they could introduce a measure into Parliament to enable them to take whatever actions were necessary. Like some other noble Lords, I found this statement a little on the complacent side. Of course, I appreciate that if the noble Baroness who is to reply said anything definite, tomorrow the petrol retail market would he chaotic; panic would set in. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lord Barnby said, were the Government to bring this enabling Bill to Parliament at this stage, it would illustrate to the people that they have this matter absolutely and firmly under control because, apart from strategic reserves—which I know nothing about and frankly do not wish to know anything about—the commercial market reserves are undoubtedly shrinking; and that is because people like myself are buying more. I am not quite sure why. It is because we do not know what may happen should there be rationing or an embargo, or whatever it may be. The fact remains that we just buy more: the user buys more. It is a well-known fact that commercial users, being supplied direct by the fuel companies, have filled their tanks and are now buying at a different price on the retail market, so they are not caught. In other words, already people are sensing that a wide variety of things may happen and they are taking what measures appear sensible. A little more positive action by Her Majesty's Government could mitigate this situation.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, when I came to this House in 1954 it was the custom at 5.30 p.m. to apologise for speaking "at this late hour". In the course of the years that time has moved on to 7.30 p.m., even to later hours. Perhaps, therefore, I may direct an invitation to the noble Baroness that when she replies, looking at the thinness of the House, and in particular at the absence of some noble Lords who have made their contributions but who have important engagements elsewhere, she might direct her attention and remarks to those noble Lords who are present and find some reason to reply to other noble Lords by the use of the letter card.

The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, I am sure, will be satisfied with the debate that has been held this afternoon. It has covered very wide ground; but that is a natural consequence of recent developments in the Middle East. I should like to join with other noble Lords who have given sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, on his maiden speech. He thought at one stage that he might have been controversial. I sensed no controversy in what he had to say. I thought that his experience and interest, particularly of the Middle East, were of value to this House. Like others, I hope that he will speak on many other occasions and on many other subjects. I had a certain sympathy with him when he referred to the low price of oil as though it were an injustice to the Middle East countries. In some respects it is perhaps a matter of regret that oil has been so cheap; because undoubtedly we have wasted it and have built up a whole system of life in which there is continual waste.

One has been reminded this afternoon of the internal combustion engine. I have a friend who has two sayings. The first is that "History never gives the reasons; it merely records the facts." One of the facts, undoubtedly, is that while civilisation has made fantastic advances in the last 50 to 70 years, we have during that period absorbed raw materials in increasing quantities. His other saying is that "God made this earth and that it is unlikely He will do anything about replacing what has been extracted from the earth." Therefore it is a large question, particularly in the matter of oil, because that is one of the minerals which, when used, is so dispersed that there is no method of reclamation or re-use; it just disappears.

I have an interest to declare, not so much in oil but in the petrochemical side. I have been taking a very dismal view of the oil situation for the last 18 months, and particularly from the beginning of this year. The entire plastics industry, on which much of our general life is based, is now under very severe difficulties thoroughout the world because of the shortage of feed stock. To a certain extent this must be attributable to the problem of the shortage of oil. I believe it is not entirely a question of crude oil, but of the failure of the oil industry to recognise the increasing demand rate and its failure to provide the necessary refinery capacity, and even the shipping capacity.

I recognise that in the United States there have been environmental problems; but when one looks at the position for industry and for domestic users one sees that it is not entirely a question of the shortage of crude oil, although that is important; it is a question of the lack of capital which is placed into the refining industries of the world. I think, too, that when we consider our own demands on short resources we are in a particularly strong position, as opposed to the vast areas like India and Pakistan, who depend on oil not only for the driving of the tractors, for the movement of food from one area to another, but also for powering irrigation schemes. My noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones was in no way being dramatic or alarmist when he mentioned the real risk of famine in many parts of the world as a consequence of the shortage of oil. We know that when there is famine in one part of the world it has a major effect on the supplies of food in many other parts.

Noble Lords have mentioned the need for an Energy Commission for the United Kingdom. I believe that this is now of such world-wide importance that there is a great deal to be said for some form of Commission within the United Nations to take a broad look at the position and to see whether there could not be some co-ordination, particularly among the multi-national companies, on whom this refining capacity and extraction of crude oil so largely depends. In the longer term, clearly we shall have to find some alternative to oil. For ourselves, we are richly endowed with coal, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones that investment will be needed in a very large degree in the years ahead of us. For once a mining community is lost it is very difficult to see where the workers for that type of industry are to be found. Certainly we need to build upon the knowledge and experience that our industry has to-day.

I rather agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, when he referred to trading stamps and competition. I question whether we ought to-day to encourage competition between the various suppliers of power and energy. Is it right to-day that we should be seeing the Gas Boards, nationalised organisations, in competition with electricity and oil? There is surely a need to recognise that there is a shortage of energy and that there should be some co-ordination. One thinks of the vast sums of money now being expended on natural gas mains. Would it not have been better to use natural gas for the generation of electricity where electricity is in major use? Can we afford two alternative sources of power and energy in our homes to-day? I question it.

I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that this country needs an Energy Commission. I do not believe that the Department of Trade and Industry is able, among all its mass of other interests and duties, to pay the right attention to this subject. I do not believe that attention at the highest level is possible, taking into account the size of the Department. Owing to the importance of this subject, it is clearly one that should be outside the Department, with use being made of the resources, the best brains and the experience that the nation has to offer on its boards. I believe, too, that we shall need to look at all the new alternative means of transport that are available. I think we must do infinitely more in the field of urban transport. I do not believe it is possible to justify the situation we see in the great cities of the West today, with all the cars, carrying only one passenger, or maybe two, and using up a very scarce mineral. So I think we need to look at urban transport, and also at rural transport. One has only to see the consequences of the electrification of the London/Manchester line and the London/Glasgow line to see the tremendous gains that can be made and how attractive it is at the end of the day to a passenger as opposed to having to drive, or even going by air.

My Lords, the long term is something which clearly we shall need a high-powered body to consider and to make recommendations on. As to the short term, I must say that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, like his other Ministerial colleagues, verged on the complacent. How is it that, of all the European countries, we should be the one that has not thought it fit to take any action to conserve stocks of fuel? I do not know whether the Government have, as it has been rumoured, given an understanding to the Arab countries that they would not cut back on the use of their stocks, would not seek to conserve their stocks. It may be so—I do not know. But clearly assurances have been given.

I wonder how we are going to deal with the European situation. We know that the Government, with their other colleagues, have avoided a solution in terms of Holland. Holland is not getting any oil, either for local consumption or for refining or re-export. I see on the tape to-night that Portugal has now been put on the economic embargo list; and, according to the Arab countries, Portugal is going to be treated in this way because she provided the air bases for the United States to carry out its support of Israel. So, my Lords, when one sees the way in which we are being treated, and the way countries like Portugal and Holland are cut off completely, it is obvious that the Arab countries have received assurances of such a character that the Government, unlike any other European countries, do not think it at all necessary, to take measures. One wonders what assurances were given and in what circumstances they were obtained.

My noble friend Lord Hoy asked a number of questions, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to answer them when she comes to reply. I said that I would try to be brief—thirteen minutes is just about right. I think we have a major long-term problem which has to be dealt with, and this will require vast sums of money in investment and in the use of knowledge. I believe that the West will be able to overcome the long-term difficulties, but we must recognise that there will be many parts of this world that will not have the resources of the West, and clearly we shall have to devise not only our way of overcoming shortages of raw materials but ways in which they in their different circumstances will be able to survive. As to the short term, my Lords, we shall have to wait perhaps until next week. Maybe next week, after Thursday, after Berwick-on-Tweed, we may get a statement from the Goverment.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has introduced a subject which, as has been shown by the long list of speakers who have taken part, is obviously of great concern to your Lordships, and I am sure I speak for all Members of your Lordships' House when I say how grateful we are to him. I should like first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Denman on his maiden speech. It seemed to me most informative and constructive, and I think it is invaluable to have a speech of this kind from someone of his extensive experience in the Middle East. It comes at a most opportune moment; we are most grateful to him, and hope that we shall hear from him on many occasions in the future.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hertford asked when the question of transport had last been discussed in the House of Commons. I can tell him that it was debated on July 4; that there was a further debate on transport planning following the Report of the Expenditure Committee; that there will be further debates in another place and in this House on the Road Traffic Bill; and this matter, of course, was debated on a Motion in this House in March 1973. I say this at the beginning to assure your Lordships that the matter of road transport and the options, the other alternatives to it, are continuously under review by the Government, and there have been many opportunities to discuss these matters in your Lordships' House.

Basically, my Lords, the debate to-day has linked two major problems: first, the future of our oil supplies, and, secondly, the policy to be adopted for road transport. We shall of course study most carefully all that has been said on both these topics. At this late hour, and when my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has already dealt very fully with the immediate oil situation, I do not think there is anything further that I can usefully add. As I have said, we shall study what has been said on this matter together with the suggestions that have been put forward by noble Lords.

A great many noble Lords have referred to the international situation—my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, the noble Lords, Lord Segal, Lord Hale and Lord Davies of Leek, my noble friend Lord Barnby, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he was winding up, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, when he spoke at the beginning of the debate. He asked whether, in the Statement that was made by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, it was not a fact that there was no mention of oil. I can say to him that at the same time there were issued in Brussels two Press communiqués, in one of which the subject was referred to; but I really feel that as my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir answered a Private Notice Question on this subject immediately before the debate, it would be much more useful for me to refer noble Lords to what she said on this matter.


My Lords, I do not want to be awkward but that is not good enough. When she made that statement the noble Baroness did not refer to oil at all, so far as I understand. I was present and I was under the impression that she did not refer to it because she knew that we were to have a debate on oil immediately following the statement; so she confined what she had to say to what the nine countries had reached with regard to a settlement of this problem, but not about oil. So the noble Baroness really cannot say to your Lordships tonight, "You can now refer to the noble Baroness's statement in reply to the Private Notice Question". If we do we shall get no answer; we shall not hear about oil.


My Lords, I will undertake to refer all the points which have been raised—and there have been a great variety of them on a subject which I am sure noble Lords will appreciate is not my own—to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but I really do not think at this stage that I can go further than say that I think we must take note of what my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie said. I cannot add anything further to that.

My Lords, two general points have come up. They were raised first by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and referred to also by other noble Lords. The first was on the subject of an Energy Commission. This is an issue which the House discussed at some length in a debate on Energy Policy and World Supplies on February 28 this year. I can only repeat the arguments which my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn put forward then. It is hard to see what powers such a body could have that are not already available to a Government Minister, and in particular to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The skills and information which are needed to formulate an energy policy are available to Ministers and their Departments and there is always the danger of unnecessarily complicating the lines of responsibility. The national importance of energy matters underlined by present events in the oil world inevitably raises major political decisions, and it is hard to see how any Government could step back from their responsibilities by setting up an Energy Commission to stand between them and the industry. If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, also talked about an Energy Commission, but he referred to it as a kind of standing committee for the development of new forms of energy. This, I think, was referred to also by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who thought of it on an international basis. That is certainly an idea which we should note and consider.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness, may I say that the only suggestion I was making was that an Energy Commission might formulate an energy policy. Is the noble Baroness saying that it is too complicated, not only to form an Energy Commission but also to have an energy policy, which already was referred to this morning in the Press by her right honourable friend the Minister?


No, my Lords; my main point was that we think it would not help an already difficult situation to have an Energy Commission which was separate from the Government, which has necessarily to take political decisions and responsibilities in this matter. But I am turning now—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness, and I am grateful to her for permitting me to do so, just to clarify the idea and not to put a sharp question to her but to help the Department look at it later, may I ask whether she would have regard to the idea that, just as a "think tank" is thought to be helpful to the Cabinet Office, so a "think tank" to work over all these very complex problems that range over the responsibilities of half a dozen Ministers might be helpful to the Government and to Ministers in formulating a policy? That is what noble Lords had in mind, as I understand it. I am not trying to put a sharp question to the noble Baroness, but it would be a pity to miss this opportunity to mention that, in case it might be helpful to the noble Baroness in dealing with her Minister.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. That is a suggestion on the lines of that made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, that there should be sonic kind of standing committee for the development of new forms of energy and to review these things in relation to the current position. As I thought I had said already, it is a somewhat different suggestion and one which I am sure the Government would want to note and to look at.

This suggestion of an Energy Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, is closely connected with a national energy plan, and I think it important that when we use that term we should be quite sure what we mean by an energy plan. A plan with fixed targets and deciding to have a particular pattern of energy supply at a particular date would have grave disadvantages. In this field we are necessarily operating in conditions of uncertainty, and circumstances can change rapidly, as events of the recent weeks have shown clearly. But our decision to-day will have effect for many years to come. We must leave ourselves flexibility to take account of the changing situation. Were we to tie ourselves to fixed targets, we should risk shutting ourselves off from options which later we should need, and if our plan was wrong, the penalties would be very heavy. Planning, in the sense of keeping domestic and international prospects under constant review, anticipating problems and adapting accordingly, and seeing the energy scene as a whole, is essential, and that is what the Government do.

My Lords, the debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, suggested it would be in his opening speech, has been principally about the longer term and what happens when the world resources of fossilised fuels run out. We have heard suggestions this afternoon to the effect that the world will soon have exhausted its sources of energy. I should like, therefore, to put the matter in perspective. It is true, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has said, that our conventional reserves of coal and oil are finite. We cannot expect them to go on supplying our needs and the needs of future generations for ever. But conventional reserves are still very large, and when they do run down there are large, alternative sources of energy which we may expect to become available. If we take conventional resources first, there are physically enough reserves to meet the world's requirements for a considerable time to come. The world's recoverable reserves of coal have been estimated at 700 billion metric tonnes, if price is not important, of which the Free World's part is 150 billion. Regarding oil, as my noble friend said earlier, we have every reason to believe that, provided sufficient exploration effort is maintained, enough oil could psysically be made available over the next 15 to 20 years to meet a world demand for oil for all purposes substantially greater than at present. Turning to unconventional sources, we find the potential is vast. There are enormous deposits of oil sands and tar sands, estimated at about six times the proven conventional oil resources, from which oil could be extracted. There is the possibility that as technology develops large quantities of oil and gas may be found in deeper waters than have hitherto been explored. There are processes for developing and abstracting oil from coal, and finally, there is nuclear power.

But in the middle term we need to consider our prospects. We have, first, the North Sea oil, and the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked when we could expect to get it. My understanding is that we should begin to get it at the very end of next year or in 1975. We are doing everything possible to speed up the development of our resources in the North Sea. We have asked the oil companies concerned to inform us of any delays that occur in developing their project and about any matters which hamper them from proceeding as fast as possible. It would be unrealistic to expect that the North Sea oil would make a significant contribution to requirements next year, or even in 1975, but looking further ahead we currently forecast that in 1980 some 70 million to 100 million tons of oil, equivalent to about one half to two thirds of our demand, will be produced from our sector of the Continental Shelf, and we now seem to be assured of reaching the bottom end of this range. I understand that the difficulties to which the noble Lord referred are physical difficulties and not financial questions at this point. We are not yet in a position to make forecasts for the period after 1980. It will depend on the extent of the fields not yet discovered.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, asked whether existing United Kingdom refineries will be able to refine the North Sea oil. The short answer to that question is, "Yes". I am glad to give complete support to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, about the necessity for taking the greatest care of the environment over all these developments. It is a matter which the Government have very much in mind, and I agree with him that it is our duty to see that while this industrial enterprise takes place the greatest care possible must be taken of the environment.


My Lords, as the noble Baroness is probably well aware, off the coast of California they have had difficulties which have finally made them stop bringing the oil to the shore. What would happen if similar difficulties arose in the North Sea? Would the Government stop the oil coming in?


My Lords, I am afraid I am not familiar with the position in California, and I should find it difficult to answer a hypothetical question. I do not think at this time I can go any further than that.

I have mentioned North Sea oil, but there are of course other indigenous sources of energy, and one to which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, referred most helpfully was the coal industry. This was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I would reaffirm that the Coal Industry Act which was passed this year provided for the National Coal Board £275 million for capital reconstruction, £175 million for writing off past deficits, and grants totalling up to £695 million for the next five years. This has played an important part in arresting the decline of the industry which had been allowed in previous years. It has also made it possible for the industry to build up stocks, especially against any possible interruptions of energy supplies. Meanwhile, the National Coal Board have been urgently reviewing the scope for the future production of coal by expanding the output of existing pits and by the sinking of new pits. They are escalating the programme at the present time. My right honourable friend the Minister for Trade and Industry is discussing the Coal Board's plans with them, and he has said in another place that he will be making a Statement when these discussions are complete.

There is, as well, natural gas which is an indigenous resource. We have developed it rapidly, and we are concentrating it on those uses to which it is best suited. We should like more. The recent purchase of the Norwegian half of the Frigg field, which is still subject to the Norwegian Government's approval, will provide a valuable addition to our reserves.

A number of noble Lords referred to nuclear power, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and I am sure we shall all take note of Lord Kings Norton's warning. Again, perhaps I can refer to what my noble friend said at the beginning of this debate. There are nine Magnox stations being operated by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South Scottish Electricity Board, which already supply 10 per cent. of our electricity and 3 to 4 per cent. of the country's total energy requirements. The five advanced gas-cooled reactor stations now under construction will add a further 6,000 megawatts to nuclear capacity by 1976, more than doubling the total. The first station, Hinckley Point "B", is expected to be producing power during 1974. In order to strengthen the nuclear design and construction industry to enable it to meet the heavy demands which will be made on it in the future, the Government have encouraged the consolidation of the industry into a single strong unit. To this end, a new reactor company, the National Nuclear Corporation, has been estab- lished. The Minister for Industry has asked the Central Electricity Generating Board to bring forward early proposals for a new nuclear order after consultation with the National Nuclear Corporation. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked whether we could give an undertaking that no more oil-fired electricity stations would be built. I think it is only fair to say that we should not be panicked by the present oil difficulties into closing options before we have to.


My Lords, if I may interrupt for one moment, just in case the noble Baroness may give the wrong answer to a question that I did not ask, I said no more single oil-fired power stations. I did not say no more oil-fired. I did say, I think, if the noble Baroness will check, just oil-fired, and I was asking for dual power.


My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord. The next decision on the choice of power station fuelling will come next year, when it may be necessary to decide between the two stations, Killingholme, which is oil-fired, and an alternative coal-fired station for which the Government have agreed that design contracts may be let. The considerations we will then take into account will be the latest view of the prospects for domestic coal production in the 1980s and the 1990s and the capability of the generating system for dealing with this with and without new coal-fired capacity.

A great many noble Lords referred to the question of electric cars, among them the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and my noble friend Lord Sandys, who referred to the report produced by the Civic Trust. I think this matter was dealt with very fully by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, and I do not think there is anything that I can usefully add.

I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, had to say about the linear induction motor, which is one of the subjects covered by the recent Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will be making their reply by the end of the year.

It is, as I am sure your Lordships will understand, with a feeling of some relief that I leave the oil situation and return to the second half of this debate, which is that of transport, because the question that has been asked is, how the long-term prospects for oil supplies affect our policies for transport. It has been suggested that uncertainties about the supply and price of oil mean that there will not be the traffic which will justify the programme for road construction on which we are engaged. Further, it has been suggested that it would be a good thing if road traffic did not increase, and that both these reasons taken together should make us take steps to switch the emphasis in our transport system from road to rail. The Government cannot go along with this kind of argument, because there are very good reasons why so many people and so much freight should go by road, and we therefore need a modern road system to make this possible. This may be an unpalatable fact to some of your Lordships, but nevertheless it is a fact.

It is certainly the Government's policy to ensure that the railways handle all the traffic that they are best suited to handle. The railways cannot adequately replace roads. The road network is about 19 times as great as the rail network, and it is much more flexible not only for passengers but, equally important. for freight. Furthermore, most people want to own and use a car. Eighty-five per cent. of freight tonnage is at present carried by road because it is economic; and we must not forget that lower freight transport costs reduce the price of goods in the shops. This point, I thought, was well expressed by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Nor is it certain that a switch from road to rail transport would save oil on a substantial scale. The railways, too, are consumers of oil. They would need to operate differently for carrying freight now carried by road, and these operations would lead to the use of more fuel. In any case, most of the transferred freight would still need to be moved by road to and from the railway. If present trends continue, between 1972 and 1985, passenger travel by road will have increased by 60 per cent. and freight tonnage carried by road by 40 per cent.

The road programme has three basic objectives. It is to catch up with existing traffic needs; to provide for increased demand up to the 1980s; and, a very good environmental reason, to reduce the damage which traffic, particularly heavy lorries, does to our towns. The road programme is part of the policy adopted by the Government in June, 1971, for constructing and improving 3,600 miles of highway and strategic trunk roads. Its objectives pay regard both to achieving greater national prosperity and to the need to protect the environment from the damage done by road traffic. Some of these objectives are mainly economic and social; that is, to improve routes to our ports and airports; but the major objective is environmental. It is to relieve towns and villages, especially those of historic value, from through traffic. I am bound to say that I felt the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hertford were very unfair to the Department of the Environment. There has been a new approach to the design of roads, as recommended in the Government's White Paper Development and Compensation — Putting People First, which does ensure that roads are properly fitted into their surroundings, including adequate landscaping and tree planting. Anyone who has compared the start of the M.1 with the M.6 as it goes over Shap Fell can see the difference in the design of roads.

The enormous programme of tree planting carried on by the present Government will be something for which I think our children will be very grateful when the effects are seen in 20 years' time. A new road need not be an environmental disaster: it may well be an environmental gain. Perhaps I ought to comment on my intervention concerning Petworth Park, in case there should be any misunderstanding about it. I said that the Department of the Environment had no plans for building a motorway across Pet-worth Park; and this is so. The scheme which the noble Marquess evidently had in mind is one of three proposals for a principal road by West Sussex County Council. These proposals also include a longer route to the East of Petworth. A final decision has still to be taken and the longer route which avoids the Park is not ruled out.

I would also remind the House that the Government have endorsed the approach of the Expenditure Committee in another place to the problems of urban transport. For noble Lords who have not had the opportunity of reading the Committee's Report, I would say that it indicates the Government's intention to encourage the use of public transport and to encourage local authorities to make adequate plans for this by introducing bus lanes and other methods in order to get a more reliable public transport service and, furthermore, to restrain private cars in city centres. This is a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred; and it seems that in this situation we are again looking forward and keeping open the options on these matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, also referred to this question of limiting cars in towns; and I think this was the point behind the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, when he referred to keeping large cars out of towns. I can assure him that we shall look at the suggestion he made, but I think the principal problem we are faced with is how to restrain traffic in towns in order that pedestrians and city-dwellers may have a better environment. This again is something which the Government have very much in mind.

The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, raised a point about waterways and how they might be further used. Waterways transport is in fact best suited to bulk traffic between waterside sites: otherwise double handling of goods would result, and this adds to the cost. However, in many other respects it is in direct competition with railways. At present, about one-fifteenth of one per cent. of inland freight ton/miles is carried on inland waterways in Britain. On the other hand, about 18 per cent, is moved by coastal shipping. If all the inland waterways were suddenly to be utilised to their full capacity they would still be able to contribute less than one per cent. of freight ton/miles.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment? I am most grateful to her for mentioning this, but the real point of my remarks was whether we could take a new look at our waterways with a view to upgrading their capacity, to see whether they could take some of these bulk loads that would otherwise be carried on our roads. I do not ask for a snap answer now, but I hope that her Department will look at the suggestion.


My Lords, I think the answer is that inland waterways are being upgraded in various parts of the country. I will certainly write to my noble friend on the particular point he has raised; but these waterways do have an enormous recreational value, and for that reason alone, quite apart from the freight aspect, they should be improved.

The noble Marquess, Lord Hertford, raised a question which often comes up on the subject of compensation for homes affected by motorways. He made what I thought was a very moving speech on this point, but it is true to say that this Government have done more than any other Government in the past to try to help those affected by motorway building, and to give those taking part in public inquiries all the help and advice they can get. The compensation code has been improved and extended by the Land Compensation Act 1973, which provides better arrangements for those who lose all or part of their property because of public development or, where no land is taken, because certain property is depreciated by physical factors such as noise, vibration or fumes caused by the use of new or improved public works. My Department will shortly be issuing booklets, explaining these new rights.

Furthermore, my Department have just published a booklet entitled, Public Inquiries into Road Proposals: What You Will Need to Know. It sets out in non-technical language what those public inquiries are for; who is, and can be, involved, and how the inquiries can be conducted. The problem of inquiry costs is not an easy one, and it has been looked at on several occasions. The present position is that owners, lessees or occupiers of land who are successful, following an inquiry, in defending their property against the threat of a compulsory purchase order or similar proposals are normally awarded their Tribunals, which reported on this costs. This is in accordance with the main recommendation of the Council of question in 1964.

My Lords, we have come to the end of a very long debate. I am afraid that I have not been able to answer all the questions that have been raised, but I hope I have said enough to answer the main points in the two halves of this debate. In conclusion, I should like to say that if we were to abandon the road programme we should pay a heavy penalty. We should damage our chances of economic growth and of improving social and community life, and we should deprive ourselves of the opportunity of taming the lorry. The Government do not believe that the longer-term outlook for oil, as we see it at present, would justify the surrender of these benefits. The problem is essentially one of balancing the potential advantages with the disadvantages in a changing situation. The Government will therefore keep under continuous review the relationship between the oil position and our policies on road transport.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness finally sits down, may I ask whether the reason she has omitted from her otherwise extraordinarily comprehensive reply any reference to solar energy is because she does not believe in it?


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton. I had intended to reply to the question on solar energy, but it is something which is very much in the future. However, it is not something which has been forgotten, and I think we shall all read afterwards with great interest his proposals on this subject.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, you will be pleased to hear that I propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in two things. First, I agree with him when he said that I must be pleased with the contributions made by your Lordships to-day. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I had prepared a list of points put forward by each speaker in this debate, and had there been time I would have thanked them individually for their particular points. As it is, I hope they will all accept my gratitude without my going into great detail. However, it would be churlish of me not to say how pleased and honoured I was that the noble Lord, Lord Denman, chose to make his maiden speech on my Motion. Over 30 years ago he and I were in the Middle East, in the same battle, and we were both put "in the bag" together; so I hope that we shall not have any more of that sort of thing. I do hope, however, that we shall have many more contributions from him. I should like merely to voice my thanks to all those of your Lordships who have spoken. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.