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Ministry Of Power

Volume 640: debated on Monday 15 May 1961

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Fuel And Power Industries (Output Targets)

2.

asked the Minister of Power what general directions he has given to the fuel and power industries relating to output targets for the current year.

How does the Minister expect these industries to plan ahead without having a fixed target underwritten by his Ministry? Has he observed that the Chairman of the National Coal Board is planning a target of around 200 million tons, and that the Conservative Political Centre is advocating a target of 120 million tons?

I think that the hon. Gentleman, if he has paid attention, as I know he has, to the recent debates in the House, will be quite well aware of the objections to fixing targets, and will also be aware that in the last debate I gave my view that the Chairman of the National Coal Board was right in planing for a capacity of about 200 million tons a year.

Liquid Methane

3.

asked the Minister of Power what proposals he has received from the Gas Council regarding the importation of liquid methane.

I am surprised to hear that Answer. Will the Minister guarantee, in view of the heavy blow that these proposals are likely to inflict on the coal industry, that before any irrevocable step is taken we shall have the opportunity of debating the proposals in this House?

No, Sir. I should like to make the position quite clear. I have said before that the position of the coal industry would obviously be one of the most important factors that I would take into consideration. I intend, when I receive the proposals, which I have not yet done, to consider them and to reach a decision, and, in view of the interest which the House has taken in this matter, I have given an undertaking that I will make a statement in order to acquaint the House before the decision is actually announced. It is my decision; I must reach it myself.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the paramount importance to British industry of having the cheapest possible supply of power which is available?

In view of the fact that the Minister told us on Monday last that it would be only a few days before he had the report of the Gas Council, how much longer does he think he will have to wait?

Steel Industry (Prices)

5.

asked the Minister of Power, having regard to the increase in fuel oil duty proposed in Clause 2 of the Finance Bill, and the increased annual costs of steel making of approximately £5 million and of approximately £10 million for electricity generation, what general directions he will give to the Central Electricity Generating Board, and what steps he is taking to initiate conversations with the British Iron and Steel Federation, with a view to circumventing increases in prices, respectively, for electricity supplies and steel and negativing any possible inflation of power and steel prices; and whether he will make a statement.

None, Sir. Under the relevant Statutes, any variation of the electricity bulk supply tariff and of the maximum prices of iron and steel products to take account of any increase in fuel oil costs resulting from the imposition of the duty are matters for the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Iron and Steel Board, respectively.

Has not my right hon. Friend perceived the ominous signs in the last few days arising from the imposition of the fuel oil duty; namely, an increase in electricity prices of up to 20 per cent.—as manifested by the Eastern Electricity Board's announcement last week—and the possibility of increases in the price of steel of up to 30s. a ton? How could these price increases be consonant with the policy of Her Majesty's Government which so far has been to increase the competitiveness of British industry in the interest of national exports, not to reduce it?

I think that a great many of my hon. Friend's prognostications depend on the price at which oil is available to those two large consumers. I have not been able, in fact, to make any estimate of the effect of the oil tax on the cost of electricity generation because I do not know how much oil will be used with the changed cost which, in turn, will depend on the price at which oil is available. I therefore think that it is impossible to be dogmatic about it until we know the cost to the consumers of the tax on oil.

In considering steel prices, will the Minister look at the price-fixing arrangements in this section of industry and inquire why there are fixed prices for delivery in any part of the country no matter what cost may be in- volved? Will he also look at the prospects of reducing steel prices? I know that they are still lower than those of a great many other countries, but in view of the fantastically high profits which the large steel companies have been making for the last few years, is there not a case for reducing the level of these prices?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Iron and Steel Board has a statutory responsibility, and I see no reason—certainly not hypothetically for the future—for interfering with the responsibility that has been placed on that Board by Statute.

Nuclear Power Station, Trawsfynydd

9.

asked the Minister of Power what will be the total cost of erection of the nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd, Merioneth.

The total cost of the station, including the nuclear fuel charge, is expected to be about £75 million.

I should like to ask, not in a critical spirit but merely for information, whether work on this project is going on all round the clock? If so, what is the extra cost of doing the work all round the clock as compared with doing it in normal hours?

As far as my right hon. Friend is aware, tenders have been submitted and one tender has been accepted, and the work goes on according to the contractor's desire.