European Community (Energy Policy)

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Authorities (Restoration of Works Powers) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th May 1977.

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Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty 12:00 am, 17th May 1977

One thing that the debate has proved conclusively is that there has not been nearly enough time for everyone who wished to take part in it to do so. I was glad that a number of speakers, including the Secretary of State, mentioned that we shall be having a full energy debate in the not-too-distant future. We look forward to this, so that we can outline our views on the short- and long-term aspects of energy policy and strategy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) dealt adequately with the performance of the Secretary of State and his handling of these documents. There seems to be a tendency for a great deal of talk to take place in committees, commissions or whatever, but a decided lack of decision-making. This view is held both outside and inside the House. I hope that the time is not too far distant when the right hon. Gentleman will take some positive decisions and stop putting everything off in favour of wide-ranging public discussions. They are all very well, but they can never be a substitute for decision-making.

I was sorry that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) introduced a slightly disagreeable note into the debate, particularly when he remarked on the fact that he considered that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater had not studied the documents in detail. I should point out that it was only because of my hon. Friend's representations that we have had two hours for this debate. Without his representations we should have had one and a half hours, and the hon. Member for Rother Valley might not have been able to make his remarks.

The hon. Member was worried about the future of miners in his constituency. I suggest that when Clause 11 of the Coal Industry Bill is discussed on Report he should carefully consider whether to support the proposal that the National Coal Board should be able to operate overseas. The jobs of miners in his constituency will be put at risk if the NCB is diverted from its primary task, which is the production of coal.

I turn to the document dealing with oil-refining policy. I entirely agree with what the Secretary of State said about the document. Our requirements as an oil-producing nation to some extent differ from those of our Community partners. Therefore, it is only right that although we must, of course, be good Europeans we must also remember that our own interests must not be neglected. I believe in being good Europeans, in the same way as the French. They never forget that the requirements of their own country are every bit as important as those of their neighbours.

I must say a word about nuclear policy, because that has been by far the most controversial matter mentioned tonight. It is not the first time that I have found myself in agreement with much of what was said by the Secretary of State, and that was amply confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). We must give serious consideration to the future of the nuclear industry. I make a prediction now that we shall proceed with the fast breeder reactor, despite what the conservationists say—with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane), with whom I do not always agree—because there is simply no alternative for filling the gap that we shall face in the 1990s. There is no doubt that the West may face a major new energy crisis within the next decade.

I doubt whether many of the suggestions and predictions that have been made by President Carter will see the light of day because, as one well-known writer has already said, his speeches contain "a Bill in every line". That is pretty accurate. He will find it extremely difficult to obtain every one of those Bills. While I have the greatest respect for his moral integrity and his wish to do the world a service, I am afraid that I have a slight reservation about his remarks because the commerciality of certain things in America is involved and American enthusiasm could influence matters.

I also want to speak about the documents that deal with the coal industry. We obviously agree with the sentiment expressed in them, but a number of questions arise that the Minister may be able to clarify when he replies. We accept the principle behind the grants that are to be made, but how will this operate in conjunction with the terms of the present Coal Industry Bill? Will the Government be willing to accept such grants from the EEC, and do the Government consider that the amount that we shall have to contribute—which the Secretary of State said would be about £70 million—to the project will lead to a reasonable return for that money? What consideration have the Government given to nuclear power as a competitor of the coal industry? Perhaps the Minister will reply to those questions.

I know that the Minister will be pushed to answer all the points that have been raised by hon. Members tonight, but I should like him to say a word about the important subject that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) in connection with conservation. My hon Friend has made a particular study of this and I know that the whole House respects the amount of research that he has put into it. There is no doubt that what he said about the "Save It" campaign was correct. The cost involved has not been fully rewarded by success, and some of the more recent bungling of which we have read has given cause for concern. I am sure that the Minister will do all he can to ensure that detailed policy on the "Save It" campaign is handled with a little more care.

I promised to conclude at midnight to give the Minister of State 13 minutes to reply. I hope that he will respond by answering my questions.