Eec (Energy Policy)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th February 1975.

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Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford 12:00 am, 11th February 1975

May I thank the Government for affording time for a debate on these instruments. I do so on two counts. First, the extent of the brief debate on 3rd December left a number of hon. Members dissatisfied and it is advantageous that we should be able to devote additional time to the subject. Secondly, the debate fulfils the undertaking given by the Leader of the House in the last Parliament, which I am glad to see is borne out in this one, that four full days would be allowed during the parliamentary term for discussion of matters of primary importance in the EEC context. This being the first of such occasions, it is worth noting the fact and thanking the Government for it.

The very fact that we are debating energy as the first of those occasions is an illustration of the importance of the subject. However, it is interesting to recall that the formulation of an energy policy was not one of the original purposes of the Communities. The Treaty of Rome made no such provision. Euratom provided for some part policy within the framework of energy matters generally. This ever-growing issue has become one of ever-growing importance, and it has occupied the attention of the Community more and more as time has passed, notably in the meetings of the Heads of Governments in Paris in October 1972 and again in December last year when they reinforced their belief in the whole principle of an energy policy for the Communities.

The two Front Bench speakers have commented upon the size and complexity of the papers, and with good reason. They have both seen parts to accept and parts to reject in them, and that seems reasonable too. The papers themselves, despite their somewhat voluminous character, seem to me to be well drawn. They are exceedingly interesting and thoroughly studied. Of course, there is so very much that would need to be adjusted in terms of the normal negotiations which take place. But it would be a pity to assume that, because the papers are voluminous, they are therefore wordy and useless. That is not my view.

The speeches we have heard from the Front Benches tend, however, in some way to cloak what is none the less an absolutely crucial issue from the point of view of Britain in relation to its future membership of the Community. The issue of energy policy and Britain's adherence to it, and the whole of Britain's relationship as a member of the Community, able either to stimulate or to forestall the pursuit of energy policies, is a crucial issue for the future.

In value terms it vastly outdistances anything which could possibly be the outcome of the renegotiations. For instance, we are talking in terms of decisions made about energy which could have the most penetrating effect not only on our economies but on our whole life-style for the future. It would be wrong to imagine that there is not involved in these papers an issue of the most substantial importance to this country and to the whole of Europe.

The issue before us is whether, in the face of what is a mounting and more and more recognised problem, to combine with neighbours to face the challenges and dangers and, indeed, the uncertainty of the remainder of this century or to seek to go it alone. That is the crucial nature of the decision before us, and some reference to it must be made, particularly in the light of the oil crisis dating from the latter months of 1973.

Major industrialised nations and groupings of industrialised nations the world over have recognised what a critical issue is represented by an adequate supply of energy. It seems to me that, for the first generation or so after the war, the constant supply of energy was almost taken for granted. People did not register the fact that one could be deprived of it at a certain time, or supplied with it only at such cost as would put the general realisation of their normal living standards in doubt. This has become so clear now that we all seem to think that it was always recognised. It is not so.

Countries are now facing the need to deal with their security of energy supply as a matter of absolutely first priority in national policy. The clear way in which they have gone about it in the light of the experiences of the last 18 months—seeking to diversify both sources and forms seeking equally to concentrate those sources and forms in ways which are valuable nationally or continentally where continents are concerned, and seeking to diminish reliance on external dependence—has been the worldwide pattern.

Whether one considers the policies adopted in North America or those adopted in Western Europe or in Japan, in the last 12 months one sees the constant pattern of these groupings of countries realising that if they went short of energy they went short of their life-style, and they have had to work out a system to give them greater assurance for the future. But they have all recognised in so doing that an immense resource requirement is necessary if one is to attain those objectives and that they can be met only by really powerful economic groups.

It is beyond the capacity of individual countries, even countries of the stature of some in Western Europe, to achieve on their own the degree of security and non-dependence which we seek—except, of course, in cases like our own, which are special cases in relation to that of the industrialised world. The essential need of most of these countries is to shift a major part of their energy demands to non-vulnerable sources. They, of course, look to the rapid development of the generation of electricity by nuclear means and, therefore, the use of electricity as one of the primary methods by which that shift should take place.

For the moment, the whole endeavour worldwide seems to coincide with the views of the oil-producing countries themselves. They in turn have expressed anxiety and concern lest the consumption of their precious material goes at a rate which is inimical to their own best economic interests. They therefore fear that the over-rapid exhaustion of these resources could be damaging to them. They have not seen objections in the tendency within the industrialised world to seek to make a mammoth shift.

It also coincides with the other concerns which have been expressed, within the framework of the Club of Rome and other like bodies, about the excessively rapid use of raw materials worldwide, and particularly the burning up of valuable commodities like hydrocarbons which have a variety of alternative uses. Thus, all the lines of action debated so widely in the world have not at this stage met any strong resistance.

The Community's part in all this seems to have been, understandably, defined in certain fairly clear terms. The first is to go in for a major programme of hydrocarbon use economy. There is no doubt that we ourselves and the Government can perhaps be criticised for an inadequate approach to this major problem of economy in the use of energy, but the great purpose of the Community's plan is to bring about a very substantial reduction in energy used.

The second part of the programme is clearly to go for a major promotion programme in the discovery and development of local fossil fuels within the Community area. The third part of the programme is to procure a joint capability in our nuclear generation. The fourth is to assure access to and enrichment of the necessary fuel, particularly uranium, for the purpose of meeting that nuclear demand.

Allied to these principal pillars of the Community policy has been the need to pursue a common line of action in relation to the security of the population and the restriction of pollution, as well as to provide for solidarity amongst the Community countries in the event of external obstacles to supply and the creation of emergency situations.

I hasten to assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) that the Community's purpose is not at all in such matters to act in spite of the International Energy Authority. On the contrary, from my contacts with the Community I suggest that the whole purpose is to find means of ensuring that the Community as a whole represents a valid part of the authority and can usefully contribute, but as a powerful group, to the formulation of its policies. That is where I look forward to a European economic policy, and it is the way in which the Commissioner concerned looks, together with that part of the Commission over which he presides.