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Volume 888: debated on Monday 17 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many staff his Department has engaged in lecturing to voluntary organisations such as Women's Institutes, Mother's Union, and so on, about how to conserve energy in the home.

None of my staff is engaged specifically for lecturing voluntary organisations on how to conserve energy in the home.

Is that not evidence of a major oversight by the Government? Should not the housewife be the natural ally of the Minister's Department in conserving fuel? Is it not correct to say that if even a 5 per cent. saving of energy were to be the result of a campaign by the Government directed at housewives, a large part of the problem which the shortage of energy and the energy price have presented to the Government would be solved?

I have some sympathy with that point of view, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the Government have undertaken a massive publicity campaign, aimed primarily at the householder and other consumers. The hon. Gentleman will probably agree—he appreciates that conservation of energy is important for the country—that officials and technical experts should, as part of their normal functions, concentrate their available time on industry, where consumption is nearly double that of the domestic sector, and represents over two-fifths of the consumption of the whole country.

Could we not have a lecture, at some time, on how to conserve energy in the House?

If my hon. Friend is enthusiastic about that, we could probably appoint a workmen's inspector in the House to go into the matter.

Does the Minister agree that the most efficient form of promoting economy is a good, swingeing price increase?

No, Sir. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There is no question but that the days of cheap energy have gone. It is in the interests of the consumer and the country that we should try to conserve energy, because that will be beneficial to the individual and the nation.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one useful way of achieving energy savings would be for people from his Department to lecture to organisations such as the Women's Institute about some of the dangers of the miner's job and the difficulties of his life, so that the middle-class housewives who take part in the activities of such organisations have some appreciation of the real issues—which was not shown by some of the comments made during recent disputes in the mining industry?

I think that my hon. Friend has a problem here. This is a political issue. I think that education is important. Although it is the responsibility of the Department of Energy, I have no doubt that the Workers' Educational Association and, perhaps, the resuscitation of the National Council of Labour Colleges will make the contribution of which my hon. Friend is thinking.

Does the Minister accept that the increasing price of energy is due largely to Government misjudgment over a period of years, in that they have sought to produce electricity from expensive coal instead of by cheap, humane and clean nuclear means, which Governments persistently neglect?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. The biggest factor in relation to the steep increase in electricity is facts. We were talking about facts. The facts are that we are now paying £3,500 million from our balance of payments for very expensive oil. If, in the past, the Opposition had given us some support for a proper energy policy, giving coal and all the other indigenous sources of energy their proper bias, today's problem might not have been as large as it is now.

Perhaps we can save a little energy by not having the blinds drawn when the sun is not shining.