I have no immediate plans to meet the TUC and CBI, but at the meeting last week of the National Economic Development Council, at which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer took the chair, there was a full discussion of the current economic situation and especially the impact of reduced oil supplies. The council has agreed to take stock of the situation on 21st December.
Has the Prime Minister seen the report of last night's speech, in Leeds, made by the President of the CBI, in which he said that in the event of the further threatened January cut-back of oil we shall not keep up full-time working? Does not the Prime Minister think that the issue is now no longer the rate of economic growth but whether we can avoid heavy loss of output and large-scale lay-offs this winter? What the people need—not to mention pounds sterling—is clear evidence from the Prime Minister that he has appropriate plans and the resolve to implement them.
The general agreement on NEDC was that we should aim to achieve the greatest growth commensurate with the fuel supplies that we can obtain. Obviously, the extent to which oil supplies are affected in the coming months may affect growth, but for the present the loss in coal supplies is a far greater threat to our energy resources than is any loss on the oil front.
Has my right hon. Friend read the speech made by Vice-President Ford at his inauguration, in which he said that as he faced Congress he saw not Republicans and Democrats but American faces? In the present oil crisis should not we all, on both sides of the House, look at the interests of the British people as a whole and not make speeches at weekends suggesting that the answer to the crisis is a General Election?
Yes, Sir, I think that we should face the energy problem as a nation. I repeat that with the cut-back of 10 per cent. there was general agreement in industry that by economies, both domestic and industrial, we could keep our production going and sustain the rate of growth. If cuts by the oil countries as a whole—and we are affected by Arab and non-Arab countries—become larger there is danger of unemployment and of cut-back in growth, but I repeat that what is affecting us much more than the oil situation is the shortfall in coal supplies.
I recognise that the oil problem has arisen through factors outside the control of this country, unlike certain other things for which we may feel that the Government have a responsibility. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish as a White Paper the report made to him by the "think tank" about two years ago warning of the dangers of an energy crisis?
I do not know to which paper the right hon. Gentleman is referring. In any case he knows, as a former Prime Minister, that the Government never publish minutes that pass between Departments, least of all those which come from the Cabinet Office. The Government have been well aware for a long time of the energy problems that could arise. That is one reason why we have pursued our policy to maintain the level of production of coal—unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who allowed it to fall by 50 million tons a year for six years. We were criticised at the time for maintaining the level of coal production at a price which required subsidy. We did that deliberately and gave the commitment of £1,100 million to the industry because we foresaw the problems that might arise.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the policy we followed was the same as, and as wrong, as that of the Conservative Government in the three years before? Does he recall that closure programme, and can he tell us the name of the then Leader of the Opposition—who, on our closure programme, said that we should be closing pits much faster?
I was perfectly prepared to take coal production as an economic form of energy because we were not then confronted with the same problems as we foresaw when we came into office. We have taken the necessary action on coal and nuclear energy, and it was Mr. Gormley himself who said at the beginning of the year that since a commitment had been made to the coal industry it was up to the industry to produce the goods.