Skip to main content

International Energy Agreement

Volume 890: debated on Monday 14 April 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about United Kingdom participation in the Agreement on an International Energy Programme.

Following my statement to the House on 30th October last, the Government signed the Agreement, which accordingly became provisionally applicable to the United Kingdom on 18th November, to the extent possible not inconsistent with United Kingdom legislation. A copy of the Agreement was laid before Parliament in January as Command Paper No. 5826.

As required by Article 67 of the Agreement, the Government intend, before 1st May 1975, to notify the Government of Belgium, as the depository power, of their formal consent to be bound by the Agreement.

The Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973 contains sufficient powers to implement those parts of the International Energy Programme which require governmental direction. The Act is a temporary measure requiring renewal from year to year. I hope to introduce appropriate permanent legislation in the next Session of Parliament, and, if necessary to avoid any gap before that legislation is enacted, to lay an order for the renewal of the 1973 Act.

Does this mean that the Government propose to ratify the Agreement, which contains far-reaching supra-national powers, without giving the House even the opportunity to comment on it? How can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that view of an international agreement with his opposition to the European Community, on which there has been massive opportunity for comment, debate and discussion in the House? Is this not all the more surprising when, as we read in the Press over the weekend, the international discussions which are being taken pursuant to Chapter 8 of the agreement look like going very much wider than the question of energy and comprehending the whole of the developed world's supply of raw materials as well?

It might have been interesting had the right hon. Gentleman indicated whether he supported ratification of the treaty. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the question of debate in the House is one not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I understand that the Agreement has been laid before the House in accordance with the Ponsonby Rules. There were agreements undertaken and ratified in this way by the previous Government, and nothing is unusual about the way in which we are proposing to do it today. There is no comparison between the right hon. Gentleman's reference to this agreement and the European Economic Community.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it would be of general interest to the House, in view of the statement made over the weekend by the Secretary of State for Industry, to know just how far this Agreement limits the sovereignty and the freedom of this country in terms of energy policy?

I have not had a chance to study what my right hon. Friend said over the weekend but I shall do so later today—and no doubt I shall read his words with interest. I think that my hon. Friend must be aware that this Agreement is in no way comparable to the provisions of the European Economic Community. The Agreement is designed to run for 10 years. After five years, there will be a general review. Any participating country can terminate it on 12 months' notice after it has been in operation for three years.

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement but I must ask two questions. First, how many countries or Governments have signed the Agreement within the EEC and outside? Secondly, what are our responsibilities as a nation under the Agreement?

Our responsibilities are fully set out in the White Paper. I know that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to look at the White Paper more closely. Very briefly, the provisions are to secure oil supplies in emergency situations, to co-operate with consumers and producers and to reduce dependence on imported oil. Of course there are many other provisions. The hon. Gentleman asked about the number of countries inside and outside the Community which have signed the Agreement. Eight countries within the Community have signed it but nine countries—the majority of those signing—are outside the Community.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that any changes in the law of this country which are necessary from time to time to comply with this Agreement, as long as we remain a party to it, will be made by Parliament in the normal way?

Not in the first instance. As I said in my statement, we hope fully to implement the parts of the International Energy Agreement which require governmental direction under the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973. That lapses this year. I am hoping, in the next Session of Parliament, to introduce permanent legislation which will meet the right hon. Gentleman's point. If that is not possible for any reason, the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act will have to be renewed by order.

Can my right hon. Friend give us a complete and unqualified assurance that nothing in this Agreement or any other that the Government have entered into will prevent us from doing exactly what we like with our natural resources in the North Sea?

Nothing in this Agree-allow me to answer the question rather than constantly interrupt. Nothing in this Agreement—and this is the agreement that is before the House—in any way prevents us from controlling and directing our North Sea oil.

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that under Article 7(3) there could be a direction on the Government making them export oil to a participating country above the requirements which are necessary for the United Kingdom. Surely this must be an infraction of the sovereignty which as an anti-Marketeer the right hon. Gentleman claims for us?

Every international agreement involves some diminution of sovereignty [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I think it is possible for the hon. Gentleman to understand the great difference between this provision and others being discussed at the moment.