HL Deb 03 July 1979 vol 401 cc244-54

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about her visits to Tokyo and Canberra. The Statement is as follows:

" On the way to Tokyo we refuelled in Moscow, and the Soviet Prime Minister, Mr. Kosygin, came to the airport to meet me. We had about one-and-a-half hours' discussion, during the course of which I impressed on him our deep concern about refugees from Vietnam and asked him to intervene with the Government of Vietnam. He did not give me much encouragement in this respect, but I remain firmly of the view that the refugee problem must be tackled at its source as well as by resettlement. I also told Mr. Kosygin that Her Majesty's Government hoped that the SALT II Treaty would be ratified.

" The Tokyo Summit met against a background of rising inflation and higher oil prices: and this was underlined by the decision which OPEC made during the course of the Tokyo Summit to raise oil prices still further. I am glad to report that the Summit faced this situation realistically. We were all determined not to print money to compensate for the higher oil prices and we were united in feeling that if we were resolute in restraining demand for oil in the short term, we had all the skills and incentives to enable us to reduce our dependence on uncertain sources of supply in the longer term.

" We welcomed and took full account of the decisions reached by the European Council in Strasbourg the previous week: and we agreed upon action designed to align the decisions taken at Strasbourg with corresponding decisions taken at Tokyo by the United States, Japan and Canada.

" The United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy agreed to recommend to their Community partners that each member country's contribution to the Community objective of maintaining oil imports between 1980 and 1985 at an annual level not higher than in 1978 should be specified. The United States took as a goal their import level for 1977, and Japan and Canada goals relating to their particular supply position. There was also general agreement that domestic oil prices should be at world market levels.

" We agreed on a number of measures to ensure that we are better informed about operations in the oil markets.

" The Summit made it clear that the industrialised countries are ready to co-operate with oil producers in defining supply and demand prospects in the world oil market. I believe that such discussions could make a valuable contribution to the future stability of the oil market. We also discussed the position of the non-oil developing countries who will be hardest hit by rising oil prices.

" Finally, we stressed the importance of developing to the full existing and new sources of energy as alternatives to oil. We saw a special need to expand, with safety, nuclear power generating capacity. Without this, the prospect for growth and employment would be bleak.

" The Summit also issued a special statement about the plight of Indo-Chinese refugees.

" This was rightly a Summit which concentrated mainly on energy, and I believe that the fact that we could take these decisions together will contribute significantly to achieving our objectives in both the short and longer terms.

" Apart from the formal business of the Summit, the presence of the seven Heads of Government in Tokyo provided the opportunity of more informal discussions on matters of mutual concern. I had bilateral meetings with President Carter and with the new Prime Minister of Canada: there were also discussions between the European Members of the Summit.

" From Tokyo I went to Australia for two days and had talks with Mr. Fraser and his colleagues. The last time a British Prime Minister in office had paid such a visit was in 1958 and I was particularly glad to be able to visit Australia so soon after becoming Prime Minister myself. I was able to give Mr. Fraser an account of the Tokyo Summit and we discussed a number of other matters of mutual concern.

" During my return journey from Canberra to London I stopped at Bahrain and had a valuable discussion at the airport with the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa, who welcomed the Declaration on the Middle East issued by the Nine EEC countries on 18th June."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating that very important Statement in this House today. First, I would refer to the question of the Vietnam refugees, and especially the talk with Mr. Kosygin. I am very glad that we impressed upon Mr. Kosygin our concern about the refugees, and I am sure that the Government have the support of the Opposition on this question. I was also glad that the Prime Minister told Mr. Kosygin that Her Majesty's Government hoped that the SALT II Treaty would be ratified—quite a contrast to some of the attitudes and views which were expressed in our recent defence debate by some noble Lords.

However, I want quickly to deal with the energy matter, because that is the importance of the major Statement today. May I just speak about Britain's commitments and ask a few questions? Because of the increasing production of North Sea oil, the Summit commitment to restrict United Kingdom imports of oil to 1978 levels over the next few years should be easily achieved. However, it is not clear whether the Government have entered into any firm commitments about the United Kingdom's oil consumption. I should like to know whether we are really to restrict consumption, perhaps in conjunction with other members. Are we to have concerted action with our colleagues in the European Community? If so, how will this restriction be achieved? Do the Government have any intention of introducing a comprehensive plan for energy conservations; for example, speed limits and generous tax incentives for improved insulation?

Again, in the short term, over the next few months a continuing oil shortage seems inevitable. Are the Government to rely on the price mechanism to allocate supplies, as the Minister implied yesterday? Many of us saw his broadcast and he seemed to be firmly supporting an entire reliance on the price mechanism to allocate supplies. It may be right and it may not be; we should like to know more details. Have the Government any contingency plans for priority allocation, if the situation gets worse? After all, there are many sections of the community—for example, the farming community—which could be badly hit. Will there be some preparation for contingency plans? Also, why do the Government not stop profiteering, by controlling the price of petrol?

Again, in the longer term, over the next few years Britain's energy strategy will need to enable us to have enough North Sea oil sold on the home market to meet the United Kingdom's needs. This is most important. I understand that, while the home market goes short, Britain is exporting about half of its oil production, mainly to Europe and the United States. Can we defend this? I should like to know what is the Government's attitude. Even South Africa is receiving a small amount of oil from the North Sea. What steps do the Government intend to take to ensure that North Sea oil can be more easily diverted to the home market in any future shortage? Again, can the Government give the House a categorical assurance that none of the oil supplied to South Africa will reach Rhodesia? This could harm attitudes in the forthcoming conference in Lusaka.

I now come to coal, which is so important. Already today there is a very important discussion going on in the miners' conference just outside our national boundaries in Jersey.

The Lord Bishop of WINCHESTER

My Lords—


What is the Government's position on coal? The 1978 Green Paper on energy aimed for 170 million tonnes of coal production in the year 2000. Do the Government support this? If so, will the Government give an unequivocal endorsement of the invest- ment programme in A Plan for Coal? I have asked a lot of questions. They are very important ones. I hope that I shall get as good answers. Finally, on nuclear power, I know that the Government are reported as saying that they wish to be in this field, and I understand that there will be five new nuclear power stations by the early 1980s. Is there any truth in these reports?


My Lords, I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, that perhaps he ought to go back to university and look at those examination papers which state that candidates need not attempt more than seven out of 10 questions! However, there is much in the Statement which we welcome unreservedly, particularly the references to the appalling problem of the refugees. We are particularly glad to know of the reassurance which was given regarding SALT II.

Turning to the question of oil, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will clarify the phrase in the Statement which relates to co-operating, … with oil producers in defining supply and demand prospects in the world oil market ". Is that really enough, confronted as we are with a world crisis in energy? Do we not need something much more positive? Do we not need to set up machinery for discussing with the OPEC countries the whole question of trade between OPEC and the West? There are many items which many of the OPEC countries need from the West—for instance, grain, high technology and armaments. Do we not need to adopt a much wider concept and much stronger machinery in order to set going the negotiations and the dialogue?


My Lords, may I thank both the noble Lord the Leader of he Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for their questions. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition touched on a number of topics relating to what is going to happen internally in this country. Although I did not, as the French say, hold the candle in Tokyo, I doubt very much whether those topics were a feature of the discussions there. However, the noble Lord touched upon some very important questions, which showed me quite clearly that soon there will be a need for a general energy debate in this House, when matters of this character can be discussed.

Several noble Lords: What about tomorrow?


Yes, my Lords, we are going to have a debate tomorrow, and it will be a good opportunity for these matters to be raised and also, hopefully, answered. Turning to the allocation of supplies, the noble Lord is quite right in saying that it will be comparatively easy for us, compared with other countries less fortunate than ourselves so far as energy supplies are concerned, to live up to our commitment not to import a greater quantity of oil than we did in 1978. It will be harder for some countries than for others to live up to that commitment. At the moment we do not see the need, nor do we think it would be wise, to think in terms of rationing or allocating supplies.

The noble Lord referred to the exports of oil from this country. We must remember that we live in a world which is very short of oil. Although we are surrounded by a moat which is full of oil and although we can have all the supplies we want, we must not take the view that nobody else can have any of it. There must be trade in oil. There is a shortage of oil in the world. Therefore, countries such as ours which are well endowed with oil supplies must reflect this in their economies. Perhaps our economy will be less badly affected than those of other countries; our oil supplies will probably help us. However, I do not envisage a situation in which we would say that we were not going to export any oil anywhere but were going to keep it all for ourselves. This is quite apart from the fact that we ourselves do not want to use a great deal of this oil; we want to swap it for other kinds of oil.

I am glad that the noble Lord supported Mrs. Thatcher over what she said to Mr. Kosygin. I do not believe that the Prime Minister could have said more than she did. At least, however, she had the opportunity to do what I think the House will agree was very necessary; namely, to bring to the mind of the Russians the extent to which they carry a responsibility for what is being done in Vietnam. It is not only the Vietnamese Government. If the Russian Government could be persuaded to try to bring some pressure to bear upon the Vietnamese Government, this would be a matter not only of great importance but also of humanitarian importance to us all.

The main point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, related to cooperation with the oil exporting countries. He asked whether or not there could be greater co-operation and collaboration between the industrialised countries on the one hand and the OPEC countries on the other. In principle, the noble Lord is right; this would be very nice. It is not only the machinery—would that it were. We have tried this before, and we have seen how difficult it is, when the industrialised countries get together, to speak about energy. We have also seen how difficult it is for the OPEC countries to talk among themselves and reach agreement on energy. For the two to reach agreement together would be very nice, but one must remember that energy is to nations what bread is to individuals. When nations start to run short of energy, they sometimes, as when men run short of bread, react in a manner which is not wholly expected of them. Their reactions are not always what one would expect. Efforts have been made on previous occasions. I participated in the Euro-Arab dialogue, which barely got off the ground. Of course the noble Lord is right in principle; how lovely it would be in a perfect world. But there is not, alas! the machinery. And it is not just a question of machinery; it is a question of political will.


My Lords, there is one curious omission from the Prime Minister's Statement about which I should be very grateful to have the comments of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Mrs. Thatcher spoke in Canberra—it was featured on television news on Sunday night—about Her Majesty's visit to Lusaka. The Prime Minister ventured to say that her advice had not been given to the Sovereign. It appears from the statement which has now been issued by Buckingham Palace that Mrs. Thatcher did not consult the Sovereign before she made that statement and it looks as though the Prime Minister, who is new to the job and who is still rather an apprentice, has not yet appreciated, in relation to Lusaka, that the Sovereign does not speak as Queen of England but as Head of the Commonwealth. Therefore, may I ask the noble Lord whether, before Mrs. Thatcher made that statement, which could be very damaging to Commonwealth relations, she took the precaution of consulting the Sovereign and also the precaution of consulting the other 40 members of the Commonwealth?


My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that if the Prime Minister is an apprentice she is doing pretty well as an apprentice. That is all I can say. As to the statement which the Prime Minister made about whether or not Her Majesty would visit Lusaka, she said that a decision would be taken when the time was right as to whether or not advice should be given to Her Majesty. The Commonwealth Conference is going to take place in Lusaka, and at the moment the position is that Her Majesty will be going there. Whether or not the position will change before that time, I do not know. Of course the Prime Minister is well aware of the fact that it is not only the Prime Minister of this country who has a say in this matter. On the other hand, it is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who must, when the Queen is in the United Kingdom, take the final responsibility for the advice which is given to Her Majesty. I have no doubt that this advice would not be given without the full and proper consultations which are constitutionally laid down.


My Lords, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House be good enough to confirm the point he is now making: that the final decision will be taken by the Prime Minister? Surely that is not so. The decision that the Sovereign will take will be her decision, upon the advice of the 40 other countries which are members of the Commonwealth.


My Lords, the advice will be given in whatever form represents the proper constitutional practice.

The Lord Bishop of WINCHESTER

My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords that my earlier intervention was premature. However, I felt that I needed to point out to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that the Island of Jersey is not only a deanery within the diocese of Winchester but that it is within a most loyal bailiwick which lies inside and not outside the national boundaries. If we continue in this vein, 40,000 Jersey- men will want to know the reason why—and I know a little bit about what that entails! Having said that, may I endorse what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said in his questions, though I would that he had reflected a little more stringently upon the growing minority of people who feel the deepest dismay at the tendency to put all our future eggs into the nuclear basket.


My Lords, I do not think anyone is thinking of putting all the eggs into nuclear baskets, as the right reverend Prelate said, but I think the hard fact is that unless we prepare ourselves to be able to produce nuclear power in the world, this country and many other countries will fall seriously short of energy in the latter part of this century and the first decades of the next, so I think a lot of effort must be made. Of course all safety precautions must be taken and various points of view must be taken into account, but the hard fact is that the future of 60 million people living in these islands will depend very largely at the turn of the century upon the extent to which we have succeeded in bringing nuclear energy to an advanced stage.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord first a question on the refugees? While I appreciate—and I am sure everybody here appreciates—the approach that has been made to the USSR, the fact still remains that there are very many refugees who unhappily are without any place of refuge at all. Will the Government consider approaching the various Governments of the world with a view to doing what Israel, for example, has done—a small State like that—to look after a proportion of the refugees who are still in dire peril on the seas?

My other point is this. The noble Lord made a comment about the resolution that was passed at the EEC some little time ago in relation to the negotiations which are taking place at the present time in respect of the agreement between Egypt and Israel. Does he not think that it was a disgraceful thing that a one-sided Statement should have been issued while these negotiations were taking place? Does he not think that that in itself is likely to cause differences —I am speaking of the Statement made at the EEC—and does he not realise that motions of this sort are really interfering with the negotiations which are taking place between two parties who at long last are prepared to come together and discuss matters in a reasonable way between themselves? Will the Government please look at this again and see whether they can influence other members of the EEC not to disturb the position by intervening at a critical time, or if they do intervene at least to present the definite decision they have themseves considered, that at long last these two parties getting together is something of infinite importance in so far as the Middle East is concerned?


My Lords, in answer to the two questions, first on the question of the Vietnamese refugees I think the noble Lord, Lord Janner, will be aware that the Prime Minister took an initiative some weeks back with Mr. Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, pressing for an international conference on this matter because it is of enormous proportions. We are speaking about a million—or even 2 million—persons of Chinese ethnic origin with nowhere to go and no one to accept them. First, the best thing would be to stop it, but if we cannot do that we must react as best we can. This is an international problem and the noble Lord may rest assured that Her Majesty's Government will continue to play their part in trying to get other countries to take this view. The trouble is that everybody tends to agree with this but when it comes to where the refugees shall go there are rather fewer candidates to take them in.

As to the second part of the question, the Statement issued following on the political co-operation meeting of the Nine on the Middle East, I agree with the noble Lord that the agreement between Egypt and Israel is an important step but it is by no means the only step which is needed in the Middle East. There are certain things happening out there and it would be much better if they did not happen in the longer-term interests of wider agreement. I myself believe and it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that this was a right and proper Statement for the European Community to make.


My Lords, no doubt rightly the noble Lord does not like machinery, but might it not be desirable for the nations represented at the Tokyo Summit to appoint some committee of deputies or officials simply to follow up the decisions taken there and to see whether it might be desirable to have another Summit Conference on the subject?


Yes, my Lords. Steps are in fact taken to monitor the decisions taken at these Summit meetings.