As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Elfed Davies) on 5th December, the main effects of devaluation will be to reduce slightly oil's competitive advantage over coal in the home market and to make British coal cheaper in export markets. I do not expect the White Paper conclusions about the likely future pattern of demand for the various fuels to be more than marginally affected.— [Vol. 754, c. 438.]
Would my right hon. Friend agree that coal is no burden on our balance of payments? Is he aware that several hundred miners at Michael Colliery have been given notice? Would not my right hon. Friend help the balance of payments problem by issuing instructions to reopen Michael Colliery? Does not he believe that an increase of 17 per cent, in the amount of oil imported must make a difference to the use of indigenous fuel?
The increase is not as large as that. With regard to oil imports, it seems at the moment that the effect of devaluation will be less than that, with the increased fuel tax in the fuel policy White Paper.
Michael Colliery is a separate question, but I think that to reopen what is now virtually a new coalfield at a cost of about £5 million must, as it has done, cause the National Coal Board to think.
Has not the right hon. Gentleman given a most extraordinarily imprecise Answer as a member of a Government who are supposed to be committed to central economic planning? Does not that Answer show that devaluation was unexpected and unplanned?
Nothing is ever unexpected. Obviously, an Answer which informs the House that we are in the process of working out the effect of this on the White Paper which has only recently been printed is obviously bound to be somewhat indecisive. It becomes decisive only when we know the calculations. At the moment, as I said, it looks as if they will have only a marginal effect.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no further substantial increase in the import of oil? Having regard to the enormous sums spent every year by this country on imported oil, will he bear in mind that, if it were not for the large increase of oil imports permitted by the last Conservative Government, there would be no balance of payments crisis this year?
In a modern industrial economy, it is rather difficult to prevent oil imports and, under the policy of the White Paper both the rate of increase in oil consumption will be much lower than in the past and the amount of oil as a proportion of the power economy will be much less than in most other countries.
Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that oil's competitive advantages are likely to be reduced only if the price of oil rises to meet increased costs? Is it his policy to allow the price to rise?