Orders of the Day — Energy Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th July 1973.

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Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire 12:00 am, 19th July 1973

I welcome the opportunity to raise the general topic of energy policy during this debate. However, I am somewhat hesitant to raise such a wide topic since I appreciate that in another place on 28th February others more knowledgeable than myself dealt with this issue. Although in my argument I shall have recourse to statistics, my prime intention is not to give a statistical review but rather to set the problem in its various contexts. As Lord Tanlaw said in the other place, …. energy policy is not about extrapolations, or resources at the bottom of the sea; it is about guaranteed supplies." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 28th February, 1973; Vol. 339, C. 629.] The question naturally arises as to why at this point in time we need to be concerned with guaranteeing supplies. From a United Kingdom point of view the outlook is extremely healthy. Government Ministers make speeches of disturbing complacency relating to the possibility of self-sufficiency by the United Kingdom in terms of energy supplies by the mid-1980s. Nobody welcomes the enhanced prospects for North Sea oil and gas finds more than I do, but these finds do not remove the need to consider world supplies in a world context.

I shall deal first in a United Kingdom context with the coal industry. The most significant element in the United Kingdom energy position is the decline in percentage terms of coal as a primary fuel. In 1948 coal accounted for 90.8 per cent. of fuel input compared to oil's 8·8 per cent. By 1971 coal accounted for 42·7 per cent. and oil 45·4 per cent. We know that the result has been pit closures and a decline in employment.

I represent an area in Central Scotland which has experienced only in recent months the closure of a colliery. I know the result of such a closure to the locality. There is social upheaval. Miners in such areas say that they feel like nomads. Some miners have put it to me that they feel like gipsies because they have had to move so often in the course of their employment.

It seems to be conceded that over the past 10 or 15 years the decline in the coal industry was too rapid and did not take into consideration the cost of keeping a trained labour force available. It is to be hoped that the new Coal Industry Act will give grounds for greater confidence in the industry. It should be noted that the leaders on both sides of the coal industry have been most vocal in calling for a fuel policy. Coal supplies can be guaranteed for a relatively long time if proper policies are adopted for investment and recruitment.

The background history of optimism that relatively cheap nuclear power would be available to the United Kingdom is too well known to repeat. What has not been fully noted is the success of other countries in addition to the United States in the generation of electricity by hydro-geothermal nuclear means. By this year both Japan and Germany had more capacity either in use or under construction than the United Kingdom. Our lead in that important area of advanced technology seems to have been lost because of a number of factors. One such factor is the structure of the industry in the United Kingdom which supplies the necessary equipment.