Orders of the Day — Energy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th February 1975.

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Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedford 12:00 am, 25th February 1975

The Secretary of State for Energy made some interesting comments when he spoke of oil prices and the recent settlement. He did not concede what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has indicated, namely, that the difference between the price of oil and the price of coal has now eroded. I hope he will concede the point that a coal price of 6p per therm and a fuel oil price of 8·75p, with another wage deal on top, will lead to the final erosion. The bulk of the tripartite arrangements is aimed at developing coal potential in the United Kingdom at 150 million tons. Therefore, if prices continue to erode there will be little opportunity for manoeuvre open to the right hon. Gentleman.

In regard to the nuclear programme, it is interesting to note that one of the observations made by the Government's Nuclear Power Advisory Board was as follows. We appreciate that what the Government wanted to do to placate the miners was to build fewer nuclear power stations. This is a very good philosophy, if that is the Government's case. However, it may be a very expensive price for the United Kingdom to pay. The Nuclear Power Advisory Board, as reported in The Times on 14th September 1974, said: The amount of additional fossil fuel required today is very large, with a manual cost up to £500 million in 1985–86 and increasing in the years thereafter possibly to £1,000 mil- lion in 1990–91. Therefore, the cost to the consumer would be reduced to some extent, say to 20 per cent., by the effect of the lower capital cost of the fossil fuel plant. Is the Secretary of State prepared to concede that the price of fuel will continue to rise? If he had adopted a realistic nuclear policy there would be a saving to the taxpayer because these plants are operating at a lower operating cost. One has only to look at the pittance the right hon. Gentleman resorted to: three nuclear power stations of 4,000 MW over a period of four years. That is all he intended to undertake.

Let us compare that situation with that in other European countries—and they cannot all be wrong. In France the figure is six stations of 1,000 to 1,300 MW per annum for 1976–77. In Western Germany they are aiming at 30 stations of over 1,000 MW by 1985. Sweden is going ahead with an expensive nuclear programme—and that country, incidentally, has a Socialist Government. In the EEC the figure in 1970 was 20 million tons of coal for nuclear power equivalent to 1·4 per cent. of the EEC energy balance. By 1985, 372 million tons of coal equivalent is to be allocated, representing a figure of 17 per cent. The extraordinary fact is that the Secretary of State seeks to diminish the responsibility of the electricity industry while the EEC is going in an entirely different direction.

If France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and other European countries are to go for nuclear power as the only way out of the fuel crisis, why must we have this diminished programme? Should we not attribute to the Government a lack of appreciation of the nature of the crisis with which we are involved? Does the Minister not recognise that a 1,000 MW station would replace an annual consumption of 2·25 million tons of coal per year? I am prepared to concede that if the idea is to ensure that coal goes into the power stations it may be an extremely good programme, but it may mean for the public higher prices for electricity and other fuels. Let the Secretary of State tell the nation now about the situation.