Orders of the Day — ENERGY BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th June 1976.

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Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedford 12:00 am, 15th June 1976

If the hon. Gentleman falls asleep by nodding his head in assent, it is an extraordinary way of doing so. But I have confirmation that that is what the Department is after. It is surprising that it should be moving in that direction. It is like the North Sea package "You can have additional licences provided you give the Government 51 per cent. of your concessions. The use of gas by the chemical industry will be subject to negotiation." The Government will be able to extract what they want in some extraordinary way, which may not appertain to the matter in question.

This proposal could prevent the diversification of fuels by the electricity industry. Such fuels have been captive by the National Coal Board for too long. It will constitute a stranglehold over the input of the petrochemical industry. It will have a bearing on price. It will have an effect not only on naphtha, which is one of the building blocks of the petrochemical industry, but also on the subsequent price of everything derived from it—ethylene, propylene, butadiene, and so on. It will also have the effect of strengthening and extending the British Gas Corporation's monopoly. It will prevent the export of methanol and ammonia. It will devise methods of circumventing exports of certain petroleum products and chemicals contrary to Article 34 of the Treaty of Rome. It will also manipulate the petroleum and chemical industries in favour of the BNOC, the British Gas Corporation and the National Coal Board.

The Minister now shakes his head. It is good to have this response. That was not assent, of course.

One need only refer to the BNOC's paper for submission to the energy conference. That suggests that the oil sector should be completely State-managed, just like coal, gas, electricity and nuclear energy. This is supposed to be a new corporation.

Mr. Jack Jones of the Transport and General Workers Union—the architect of the great ideas for the unions and management, and on the pay proposals —has indicated that the BNOC should move as quickly as possible into chemicals and plastics, That by itself is disturbing.

I have not overlooked Labour's programme for 1976, which states that Through planning agreements we must be able to issue in the national interest directives on a wide range of industrial matters. Even the Emperor Constantine, if he were alive today, would find that there are more edicts now available than in Roman times.

Is this the way to run an industry? When I first heard about the idea of an Energy Bill, I expected a consolidation measure. These are not consolidating proposals. The Government have not done what the Americans have done in their 1975 enactment. They have not accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Science and Technology—of which the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) was the chairman—that we should have many conservation proposals. Several years have passed since the oil crisis in 1973.

The Government have not done what the Federal Republic of Germany has done. The German Energy Protection Law of 1975 is worthy of consideration by this House. The Germans put it this way: The regulations shall be limited to that means, which are absolutely essential for adjustment to any endangerment to or interruption in the energy supply. Said regulations shall, in particular, be so framed as to interfere to the least possible extent with individual freedom and economic activity, furthermore so structured as to provide for the least possible effect on the overall economy. I need hardly mention that the German economy is particularly prosperous. Their example, which many have recommended, should be followed here. Their ideas on conservation should not be overlooked.

My hon. Friend mentioned the various strands in the Bill. It is not an Energy Bill at all. There is little in it on that matter. It contains emergency provisions, which I support, but it also contains provisions that I do not support—provisions that give the Government permanent powers affecting one industry—petroleum and petroleum products.

If a commodity is in short supply—petroleum, tin, lead, zinc, or anything else—are we to have State control over it for all time? Why is the Minister seeking permanent powers for ever? The only review in Parliament is by the negative procedure—a debate of one and a half hours. It is not by the affirmative procedure. There is no need to have it. I think that is correct.