European Community (Coking Coal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 1977.

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Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley 12:00 am, 21st March 1977

Yes, I am aware of that, but they were not quite of the scale or ferocity of those in West Germany in recent months.

I do not know whether there is evidence that public opinion and feeling on the siting of nuclear power stations is leading to a general reappraisal of energy questions in Western Europe. But certainly it would be very odd if the meeting that my right hon. Friend is chairing next week did not include some comments by the Federal Republic about the growing social strains that a big programme of nuclear power stations would undoubtedly put on the societies of Western Europe. I am not saying that we are reaching crisis point—far from it. However, there are straws in the wind.

Then there are the related international problems. There have been diplomatic tensions between the United States and Germany about the contract with Brazil and between the United States and France about the contract with Pakistan. Clearly, this development will play a part in the international discussions on energy policy.

At the beginning of the debate the Secretary of State did not say much about non-conventional sources of power in the European context. France is the only West European country actively to experiment with tidal power, yet this country has almost unique potential in that field in the Severn Estuary, and possibly elsewhere. Also, the American Administration is becoming more and more interested in solar power and wind power and I wonder whether this interest is reflected in any way in the evaluation of power sources by the EEC. Is it thinking in these terms? If so, perhaps it could do so with a little more vigour, drive and imagination and retreat a bit from the state of passionate attachment for nuclear power which followed the oil crisis.

My right hon. Friend referred to the JET programme. I must confess that as a layman I am a little cynical whether that will ever eventuate. Equally, as a layman, I regard it as an important scientific and engineering undertaking. It will be disastrous if we continue to dither over this matter in Western Europe because of a silly quarrel over whether the project should go to Northern Italy or Culham. All my reading on the subject leads me to believe that the expertise concentrated at Culham gives that area a far greater claim on the project. I hope that my right hon. Friend will press the claim.

This is not a general debate on energy matters in the conventional sense, and I shall not explore other aspects of the problem. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy extended the debate from the technical consideration of coking coal. I hope that at the end of this debate he will find it possible to say a little more about some of the other matters that have been mentioned.