Fuel and Electricity (Control)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest 12:00 am, 9th December 1974

The Secretary of State is a member of the Government. It is for the Government—not the Opposition—to tell the country what to do, unless he would like us to change sides. It is important to remember the genesis of the Act. When the Act was introduced we were facing a severe crisis. The coal industry dispute was beginning at that time, and was having its effect, and we had uncertainties of oil delivery as a result of the Arab-Israeli war. The present Secretary of State for Energy said, The long-term energy problem is of the utmost seriousness and the gravest significance for the future wellbeing of everyone in these islands. It is the problem of oil, which is cynically played down to some extent, again for political reasons. The long-term and short-term problems are being tangled together, as they were, for example, by the Prime Minister in his speech at Nelson last Thursday, when he wrongly referred to the combined effects of the action of the miners and the Arab States. There is no such combined effect". Therefore, the Secretary of State was clear at that time that it was an oil problem. He was specific in his comments. As far as he was concerned the matter related to the problems revolving around the shortages and uncertainties of oil supplies. He also stated at that time The crisis was bound to come. It was inherent in a situation in which the appetite for oil in the industrial nations was growing more and more insatiable while world inflation was convincing the oil producers of a simple economic fact—that oil was worth more untapped, underground than being shipped in tankers to Europe and Japan. He further stated: The policy for oil is essential. But more than that, we need a comprehensive fuel policy, to maximise fuel production here at home, to maximise efficiency in the use of fuel, and to cut out waste. This calls for some kind of coherent policy for public transport.…" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November 1973; Vol. 865, c. 49–55.] I cannot quarrel with anything that the right hon. Gentleman then said. He likes to think that it was a good speech. Many of us took part in that debate, which was at a critical moment in the economy of the country. Why was it, having made such an excellent contribution in the debate, that the right hon. Gentleman, now as Secretary of State, has allowed the spring, the summer and even the autumn of this year to disappear without taking any action? He told us previously what was wrong. We knew that he was right. We all said the same thing, but now a whole year has been spent in doing nothing.

The Minister for Transport said on 28th March this year, The regulations made last December introducing the general maximum speed of 50 mph on all roads not subject to lower limits were made without the need for specific parliamentary approval as a result of an Order in Council under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973… Yet when the Government were in power earlier this year, they removed these limits. Indeed, it was the Minister for Transport who said at that time, they were thus putting motorway speed limits back to where they were before the fuel crisis."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March 1974; Vol. 871, c. 761–62.] That implies, in my view, that the crisis was deemed to be over.