Fuel Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th January 1974.

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Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , East Surrey 12:00 am, 9th January 1974

It is a pleasure to follow the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). I am sure that the House would like to congratulate him on having 90 per cent. of his party listening to his speech. The two main parties can learn something from that. When we are whipped, we are whipped to vote, not necessarily to listen to our leaders. The right hon. Gentleman has made some constructive suggestions, as have other right hon. and hon. Members.

We cannot emphasise too much that this country faces a serious crisis not only from the fuel but from the overseas oil aspect. The people of this country are crying out for unity in these difficult circumstances. We face a crisis of confidence. Unless we solve this problem, the country will grind to a halt with the three-day working week, the shortage of energy, and so on. Hardship is being caused not only to industry but to individuals, and such hardship should not be underestimated. Domestic users of electricity are making great savings, but it is nonsensical in these circumstances to find many miles of the Ml floodlit. The general public cannot understand this, and certainly I cannot.

For good or ill we have a Conservative Government in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ill."] They were democratically elected. However, we seem to be living in a crazy situation. We have trade unionists against trade unionists in some instances, trade unionists against the Government in other instances, and in still further instances trade unionists against the people of this country.

We cannot over-estimate the ill-feeling that has been aroused among commuters because of the ASLEF strike. People are encountering tremendous difficulties in getting to and around London. They do not know whether their trains will be on time or even whether they will be coming at all. They worry how they are to get to their destinations. In addition, there is the three-day working week, no heat, no light, and so on. At the end of the day they have the prospect of terrible journeys home. People are getting sick to death of the intransigence of the engine drivers. Sectional interests at this time of crisis should be put aside.

The world is unfortunately going through a period when it seems to be trendy to be anti-law. Such a situation can only lead to anarchy in this country.

In this national crisis the Opposition have a responsibility. I was delighted, as no doubt many hon. Members were, that the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) should take his responsibility seriously. I take the point made by the Leader of the Liberal Party that this is a constructive debate. But, alas, what he did not add was that the impact on the public through the mass media is far greater than that of a debate in this House. For example, when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—or, as his ex-colleague the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) calls him, the right hon. Member for Blarney—speaks on television and in Press interviews, he distorts the facts about our coal stocks. The Opposition should look to themselves and see whether they are taking their responsibilities seriously. Where the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East makes his mistake with his red herring about our stocks last year and this year is that last year there was no threat of an oil embargo on this country.