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Energy

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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Coal Miners (Earnings)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what were the average gross earnings per week and the number of days worked per week for coalface and surface workers in National Coal Board pits in each of the years 1970 to 1974, inclusive.

I have asked the Chairman of the National Coal Board to write to the hon. Member on this matter.

Can the Minister perhaps be a little more forthcoming and tell us whether there has been any increase in output to match the increase in earnings which, subject to confirmation, I understand has taken place? Can he tell us in particular whether there is any likelihood of the target for coal mined this year being met?

The increase in productivity has been the highest for two years. When the hon. Gentleman receives the reply in detail, he may want to put other questions arising from the information he receives.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that answer will be well received by Labour Members? Does he agree that, given the nature of the work involved and the usefulness of that work, the increase in earnings is both justified and deserved?

Many people throughout the country, apart from those associated with the mining industry, would probably agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.

When I replied to the question of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), I omitted to say that it looks as if the target will be met this year.

Although everyone recognises that there should be proper rewards for this high-risk industry, may I ask whether the Under-Secretary agrees that the competitive power of coal could be seriously eroded by excessive wage demands? What advice would he give to the NUM branches at this time as they prepare for the July conference on their next pay claim?

It would be unwise for me to advise the miners on what they should do and what kind of discussions they should have at their annual conference. No doubt Members on the Government side and Members on the Opposition side will continue to give them information. Part of my mission as I traverse every coalfield is to impress upon miners—and it is well taken—that increased productivity means a larger slice of the cake and will assist the country in its fight back to economic recovery, because it affects the balance of payments.

Gas And Electricity Tariff Structures (Analysis)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many civil servants, and at what grades, in his Department are occupied in analysing the effects of gas and electricity tariff structures on different types of consumer.

In my Department the present study of this question occupies part of the time of one deputy secretary, two assistant secretaries, one senior economist, two principals, one statistician and two higher executive officers along with other officials as necessary.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, contrary to the impression that is being given by some chairmen of nationalised industries, relationships between Government Departments and nationalised industries are not necessarily of the all-or-nothing variety? If this gamut of talent which my hon. Friend has at his disposal were to apply itself a little harder, might he not be able to make more impact on the chairmen of the electricity and gas industries about the problems of small consumers?

The relationships between my Department and the nationalised industries are very good and fruitful. Action has already been taken. The last increases in gas and electricity prices were arranged so as to mitigate the impact on small consumers. The Government have uprated pensions and other social security benefits within the past nine months. A further uprating will be made later this year. We are also engaged in a further review of energy tariffs.

British National Oil Corporation

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make an announcement about the proposed location and staffing structure of the British National Oil Corporation.

As I said in the debate on the Second Reading of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill, the BNOC's headquarters will be in Glasgow. The staffing of the corporation will be a matter for its board.

If my right hon. Friend is involved, even in an advisory capacity, in the appointment of the chairman and other staff of the British National Oil Corporation, will he bear in mind that it is a public corporation and, therefore ensure that people are appointed who not only know something about the oil industry but are in favour of public enterprise within that industry? In particular, does he agree that it would be most inappropriate to appoint a failed Right-wing politician to head this new public enterprise?

I do not know who my hon. Friend has in mind as the failed Right-wing politician to head the British National Oil Corporation. It is possible that he has in mind the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) or someone of that calibre. However, the person who is appointed will support the corporation and will have knowledge of the oil industry.

Will the Secretary of State indicate who the chairman will be and what his salary will be? Will he also indicate whether he is able to get the necessary staff in order to conduct the affairs of the BNOC on commercial lines?

I have already said on Second Reading of the Bill that where the BNOC works in partnership with the companies it will act commercially. It may well not act commercially where it acts as an agent of the Government. I am not in a position to announce the name of the chairman of the BNOC. However, it is recognised that competitive salaries will have to be paid.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us, first, that he has no intention of appointing the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC? I am sure that such an answer would be of great assurance to all involved in the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain perhaps a little further why Glasgow has been chosen as the site for the headquarters when most of the oil activities are situated in the north-east of Scotland, in the Aberdeen area? Even though he may wish to adhere to his decision, will he assure us that there will be a substantial presence in the Aberdeen area to enable those actively involved in the industry to have direct access to those involved in the BNOC? Will he also take into account—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—the fact that a large number of Scots are employed all over the world by oil companies and that some preference should be given to them in the key jobs in this enterprise?

The question of the location of the headquarters of the BNOC was under consideration for some time, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We recognise the difficulties of Aberdeen, with all the pressures that are on Aberdeen at present, such as the question of office space, housing and the pressure on resources in that city. In reply to the question whether I would appoint my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we need my hon. Friend in the House to keep an eye on the Scottish National Party.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that if a greatly enhanced salary were paid to the chairman of this corporation, this would have a very real bearing on the salaries being paid at present to the chairmen of the other fuel industries, notably gas and electricity?

I do not think that is really relevant. The question of the salary for the chairmanship of the BNOC has still be to decided, but I recognise—as does by hon. Friend. I think, and the whole House—that a competitive salary will have to be paid.

How long is it since Ward Howell International was asked to find a chief executive for the BNOC? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Ward Howell has now advised the Government that the proposed management structure of the BNOC is wholly misconceived and that it has no chance of finding a chief executive on the terms it has put out so far?

The report of Ward Howell is a matter of confidentiality. It would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House how he comes to know of the report and where he has got the information from. However, in any event the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. What he has just stated is not the case. There are people who have said they would like to take on this job, and, of course, we shall have no difficulty in finding someone who will support the corporation.

Thermal Insulation

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what help his Department is giving to encourage home owners to insulate their houses against heat loss.

An important part of the summer "Save It" campaign which my right hon. Friend recently launched is devoted to encouraging home owners to install effective thermal insulation and advising them on how to do so. The Department's leaflet "Energy Saving in the Home" includes advice on insulation and lists further sources of information.

In view of the large body of research which now shows that cavity-fill insulation is one of the most effective ways of preventing heat loss, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of offering some form of financial incentive to encourage this form of insulation and will he ensure that the object is not frustrated by the actions of some local authorities in the over-zealous application of the building regulations?

The building regulations are primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that he has recently sent out a circular to local authorities about this matter. The general gist of it is that although cavity filling is very often a suitable method of thermal insulation, it can cause trouble in some circumstances. Reference is made in the circular, however, to the circumstances in which the regulations can be relaxed.

What help, support or encouragement is the Minister able to offer to home owners who believed the "Poor Cold Fred" advertising campaign and fitted night storage heaters in their homes? Does he have any word of support for them, to insulate them against the electricity boards' unfair treatment?

The hon. Lady has a Question later on the Order Paper specifically about that matter. On the general question of financial savings, if consumers follow the recommendations in the "Save It" campaign they will receive financial benefit by carrying out those recommendations. At present the Government believe them to be a sufficient incentive.

Coal Reserves

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the amounts, in tonnage, of the known coal reserves in the United Kingdom.

The present estimate of total proved reserves of coal in the United Kingdom is about 100 thousand million tons.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he break down those figures into regions to let us know where the reserves actually lie? Is he aware that representatives of the NUM have asked for more new pits to be opened? What is the policy of the NCB and the Minister's Department on the opening of such pits, and where they are likely to be?

I regret that I cannot break down the figures, but I shall try to get the information for my hon. Friend if I possibly can. Regarding policy for new pit sinkings, my hon. Friend must be aware that the biggest new sinking of all happens to be in the county part of which he represents. Of course new pit sinkings are taking place, but the NCB's policy has been, as we are having the most expensive boring in history throughout the whole British coalfield, to find new reserves in existing collieries in order to sustain existing collieries and, indeed, to make them, in terms of productivity, more beneficial to the nation. That is the policy.

Will my hon. Friend convey to the mining industry and all associated with it the confidence of the Government in the industry in view of the figures he has just announced? Will he also take into account the fact that France has met very great difficulty in its nuclear power programme? Will he persuade our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to rush too much towards a nuclear power situation in Britain until a safe fast-breeder reactor is developed?

My hon. Friend is right that we are very very rich in fossil fuel reserves in Britain, and particularly coal. He is justified in saying that the country has a very rich asset. On the question of nuclear power, the way that successive Governments have proceeded with a view to bringing nuclear power to fruition has always been one of extreme caution. Checks and balances always exist. During the lifetime of a nuclear power station, for example, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is in charge of it and has jurisdiction particularly in relation to safety.

Conservation

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with the efforts which are being made by Government Departments and local authorities to conserve energy.

There continue to be encouraging signs that the national effort to save energy is beginning to show results. I am satisfied that Government Departments and local authorities are making their contribution to this effort.

To what extent does the hon. Gentleman think that there is an opportunity to save energy by reducing the swollen and still swelling number of civil servants and those employed by local authorities?

I do not think that that is relevant to the Question. But perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. Since the energy conservation campaign has commenced, there are valuable statistics available to him and to the House. If he takes crude oil imports, in the first quarter of this year they totalled only 22 million tons compared with more than 26 million tons in the two preceding quarters. For 1974 as a whole, total energy consumption was about 4½ per cent. down on the previous year. Up to about 2 per cent. could have been due to savings. Energy consumption in the three months from December 1974 to February 1975 was 7 per cent. lower than in the same three months two years ago. Although there are uncertainties, I think I have demonstrated that energy conservation is very well worth while.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the Property Services Agency has shown the way remarkably in saving energy through the proper use of instrumentation and controls? Is not it doubly sad, therefore, that the Government are not prepared to take space at a trade fair like Insulation 1975 at Leeds even when offered a stand for free in order to demonstrate what can be done in the country at large?

I am well seized of the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I wish that he would stop listening to gossip and try instead to put forward constructive suggestions for energy conservation. There was an explanation of that point. Since the right hon. Gentleman spoke at the conference first, I took the opportunity to explain to it what had happened—and the date and the time. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would stop listening to gossip and would try to assist us and the nation in introducing a policy for conservation.

Will my hon. Friend attempt to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to extend improvement grants to cover roof insulation? Is not it daft for one Department to pursue energy-saving courses and for another to be cutting out valuable support for the energy saving that my hon. Friend's Department is advocating?

My hon. Friend must be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has introduced insulation measures. However, I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the point he has made.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great amount of heat that is being wasted in cooling installations, especially in power stations? Is he aware, further, that Dolphin Square, London, has been heated by heat exchange units since 1938 and that that has worked satisfactorily'? Why are not all power stations using these facilities?

The hon. Gentleman is talking about waste heat from power stations. I concede at once that this is a very important subject which the Government take very seriously. A great deal of work has been done. But there are no quick and easy answers to this problem. I was interested to see, for example, that the valuable National Economic Development Office report on energy conservation published earlier this year was doubtful about the potential in this area.

Offshore Oil Supplies

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the amount of oil to be brought ashore from the North Sea in the years 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, respectively.

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the amount of oil to be brought ashore from the North Sea and the Celtic Sea in the years 1976 to 1980, respectively.

As my right hon. Friend's report to Parliament shows, we expect production to build up rapidly from commencement this year to reach a level of 100 million to 130 million tons per annum in 1980. The report indicates the way in which we expect this build-up to occur. Even if discoveries are made in the near future in the Celtic Sea, it is unlikely that development could take place quickly enough to enable these discoveries to contribute significantly to total 1980 production.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that present estimates are well down on those of about a year ago? Will he agree, further, that part of the reason for the decline is due to the fact that the oil industry in the North Sea has been subjected to doctrinaire Socialist policies?

The estimate made by the previous Government of 25 million tons this year was on any view a wild overestimate. The estimate made by my right hon. Friend when he took over responsibility was much more moderate, although there have been slippages. The slippages have occurred basically because of difficulty with platform sites and unforeseeable accidents to, for example, the Argyll Field. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to maintain that the petroleum revenue tax is not fair as between the nation and the companies and that we should make further concessions to the companies, I shall be interested to see whether the Opposition Front Bench takes up the matter.

Will my hon. Friend make sure that our oil resources are developed in the interests of the British people as a whole? What threats are there of interference from the Brussels Commission in the development of the oil? Will my hon. Friend ensure that this precious asset is used for the welfare of the British people? Can the pipes that are used for bringing the oil ashore be produced by the British steel industry and not imported?

We regret that the British Steel Corporation was not in a position, because of a decision taken some time ago, to compete for undersea pipeline contracts. On my hon. Friend's wider question, I agree that we must control our energy resources in the interests of the British people. The EEC Commission has made it clear that the control of natural resources such as oil within member States is a matter entirely for the member States.

Does it remain Government policy to ensure that the British taxpayer and public take the maximum share in any financial losses on this oil?

I am not clear what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, whether he is referring to the participation proposals or to others. It is the Government's intention that the British public should participate by way of investment and otherwise in the North Sea developments, which we believe will be a profitable investment for the country.

Energy Use Proposals

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the advice he is getting from his advisory council on proposals for a more rational use of energy.

Is not it clear from answers already given today that the Government do not give sufficient priority to energy conservation? If they did, would they not drop their irrelevant, damaging and costly proposals to nationalise North Sea oil, which will cost thousands of millions of pounds, and instead allocate some of these resources to investment in energy conservation and not continually give answers either referring Questions to other Departments or saying that they do not have the money?

I do not see what our sensible and wise policy for participation in the oil has to do with this Question. But there have been considerable savings as a result of the conservation effort. I know that the hon. Gentleman himself has done some work and has now become a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which is studying these matters. I look forward to receiving the conclusions of that Select Committee so that we can take whatever appropriate action is necessary arising out of that report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to support our proposals constructively and not, as he sometimes tends to do, in a carping and critical way.

Offshore Exploration

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether exploration activity is now increasing in United Kingdom waters.

The level of offshore drilling activity on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf is expected to be higher in 1975 than in 1974. Experience in 1975 has so far conformed to this pattern.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why he believes that exploration activity is increasing when British Petroleum and other oil producers believe that in the coming year it will fall by as much as 60 per cent. because of uncertainties about the future price of oil, the Government's policy of participation and the fears that inflation in this country is now completely out of hand?

The reason why I am confident is that the figures speak for themselves. There are 28 rigs operating at present on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf. That figure compares with an average of 25 for last year, and our estimate of rig activity for this year is about 30.

In view of the decision to promote exploration for oil on land as well as in the North Sea, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, if significant finds are made on land, especially in Derbyshire, his Department will co-operate with the Department of the Environment and local authorities to ensure the preservation of environmental amenities?

Of course I can give that assurance. Exploration licences have been granted. If there were oil finds, planning procedures would still be necessary.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition genuinely do not know whether his advisers do not understand the position about rigs or whether he is refusing to accept their advice? Does he recognise that the presence of rigs in action on the North Sea now is the result of contracts made up to two years ago and that what matters is what is happening to the contracts for the next two years of drilling? Will he listen to the advice of the industry on this important matter?

Of course I am prepared to listen to the advice of the industry. I know that before the February election last year the right hon. Gentleman said that, as a result of Labour policies, all the rigs in the North Sea would go away. Contrary to that, as I have shown, activity is higher this year than before. We shall keep the matter under review. We are anxious that exploration activity should go ahead. Development activity is equally important and we must concentrate on that, too.

What consideration has the right hon. Gentleman given to the establishment of separate oil corporations for the different countries of the British Isles? Does he appreciate that we in Scotland wish to see development and exploitation in English waters before the Scottish resources are finally dried up? Does he also appreciate that we wish fields south of the border to be explored, investigated and developed so that we can get the English balance of payments problem off our backs?

The question of a separate oil corporation for Scotland makes no more sense than having a separate National Coal Board, a separate Steel Corporation or a separate anything else for Scotland. If that were the case with energy resources, the Scottish people would be worse off. For example, the cross-subsidisation that takes place between Midlands and Yorkshire coal helps to some extent to make sure that the Scottish coal industry continues.

Oil Rigs (Fire Precautions)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that adequate fire-fighting equipment is constantly available at North Sea oilfields and if he will make a statement.

Under the existing Petroleum Production Regulations the provision of fire-fighting equipment is part of licensees' obligations to follow good oilfield practice. The operators of United Kingdom offshore oilfields due to come into production in the near future have equipped their platforms and will be following procedures which my Department considers will fulfil those obligations. The operators of offshore gasfields which have been in production off the English coast for some six years or more already meet these requirements. In addition, offshore operators will take special emergency measures when required to deploy some of the many vessels available in the offshore production area.

Does the Minister accept that there is considerable alarm and apprehension among those who work in the industry at North Sea oilfields? Will he indicate what measures his Department is taking to ensure that all the regulations are being observed to the full and what proposals it has for improving them?

The provisions which are being made at the moment are inspected by inspectors from my Department. We keep constantly under review the necessity for having safe practices against the danger of fire. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association is considering the possibility of fire-fighting vessels. Indeed, I understand that it is evaluating tenders for the provision of such vessels.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole gamut of safety in the North Sea or on any other offshore installation should come under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act under the Department of Trade?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. His concern is shared by many others. The Government are reviewing the matter to find the best way to advance the cause of safety in the North Sea.

International Energy Programme

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to have discussions with other participants in the international energy programme.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to have discussions with other participants in the international energy programme.

My right hon. Friend has frequent discussions with colleagues from other countries participating in the international energy programme. He will be visiting Norway and Sweden later this month. He had a series of useful meetings with members of the United States Administration when he was in America last week.

Will the Under-Secretary ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to explain to the House why he objects to British membership of the EEC when his Department's replies to the House on 23rd April and the hon. Gentleman's answer earlier this afternoon show that it would involve no surrender of our national control over North Sea oil, whereas on the other hand he is prepared to recommend British membership of the IEA which would involve a degree of supranational control over our oil supplies?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise, as I have pointed out to him on previous occasions, that the International Energy Agency and the Common Market are two quite different institutions and sets of arrangements.

North Sea Gas And Oil (Production Costs)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the total capital cost of bringing the North Sea gas and oilfields into full production; and how much of this sum will be provided by the BNOC.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the cost of the development of current proven reserves in the North Sea.

Present estimates of the likely capital cost of developing the proven reserves of North Sea oil and gas, excluding the gasfields already in production, lie within the range £6,000 million to £7,000 million in today's money. The share of the investment to be borne by BNOC will depend on the outcome of the present participation negotiations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how that figure of £6,000 million to £7,000 million squares with the fact that the total sum of money available to the BNOC under the forthcoming Bill is only £900 million? Further, is it part of BNOC's borrowing plan that the North Sea oil revenues should be kept in a separate account at the insistence of BNOC's creditors who will be looking to those sums as their collateral and do not wish to see them disappearing in the overall massive public deficit?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that one section of the Bill sets up the National Oil Account, which will move into surplus in a few years.

Regarding these massive oil reserves, if the people of this country mistakenly vote to stay inside the Common Market on 5th June, shall we then sell oil to Common Market countries—Western Germany, France and others which have no vast reserves—at the same price as we sell it to ourselves through out own system?

It would have to be sold at a common price if that were the case I think that that question has been answered previously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) has raised a very important point. If the royalties and BNOC's share of the tax are to be siphoned off into the oil account, will that be in order that it should be spent by the BNOC or to protect it for the benefit of our creditors overseas?

The question of the cost of participation—that was the real question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton)—will depend on the negotiations and how far we are able to get on participation this year. The royalties and payments for participation will be paid into the National Oil Account, and that account can be used, if circumstances require, to pay for participation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the answer to my Question, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Crude Oil Prices

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether Her Majesty's Government subscribe to the policy of the International Energy Agency that there should be a floor price for crude oil.

Her Majesty's Government subscribe to the objective of present IEA policy, which is to devise a means of protecting new energy sources in the event of a big fall in the world price of oil.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that international price-fixing has never been very successful? What is the point of seeking to achieve it when we are constantly told that part of our economic problem is produced by the high price of imported crude? Why do we seek to keep it up?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has taken into account the activities of OPEC in coming to his conclusion about international price-fixing. He should bear in mind that while this country may have an interest in cheaper sources of oil, it also has an interest in preserving its energy investment as a potential oil producer.

Has my hon. Friend taken into account rumours which are going around that if OPEC and Middle East countries reduce the price of their oil below the cost of North Sea oil, this will affect our income from oil in the North Sea? Will he take into account that the other day the Shah of Iran said that profits on oil from the Middle East are not now sufficient and that the price will be increased later this year?

There are conflicting statements and assessments about the future price of oil, which is effectively determined by the policy of OPEC. Whether the price rises or falls, there are sound reasons for developing our North Sea resources, if for no other reasons than security of supply.

Why is the hon. Gentleman trying to do an OPEC on this House and sustain the price of oil at a high level? Will he say what floor price he will accept—$6 to $8 a barrel?—and would the United Kingdom be allowed to buy oil if it had the opportunity at a lower price?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is trying to be complimentary in suggesting that my activities are like those of OPEC. The question of a common minimum price for oil is being considered by the International Energy Agreement countries. These discussions are proceeding, and Her Majesty's Government are taking a full part in them.

Power Stations

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the reduction of the power station ordering programme because of the Electricity Council's revised estimate of the likely maximum demand for electricity in 1981–82.

The CEGB's power station ordering programme is being urgently reviewed in the light of the Electricity Council's revised estimate of electricity demand in 1981–82 and other relevant considerations. I cannot anticipate the outcome of this review except to say that it will not affect the size or timing of the SGHWR programme.

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say how much of this reduction in demand for electricity is due to economies in consumption and how much is due to a falling-off in industrial demand because of recession? Can he also say what the effect will be on employment in the heavy electrical plant manufacturing industry?

I am sorry, but I am not able to give any precise figures or information about the point raised by my hon. Friend concerning the level of economic activity and how this has affected the power station ordering programme. The answer to the second point is that we are examining carefully the extent to which plant manufacturers will be affected, but we are not yet in a position to give any detailed information about this.

Is not my right hon. Friend alarmed at the rundown in the amount of electricity being generated, especially when taking into account the fact that in the Midlands the power stations which have been closed temporarily are coal-fired, whereas oil-fired stations using costly oil are continuing to be used? Will he issue a directive to the effect that we should continue with coal-fired power stations and thereby reduce the costly import bill arising from the use of oil?

I am not aware that the CEGB is deliberately burning oil in preference to coal, but I shall look into the question raised by my hon. Friend. My information is that the CEGB is prepared to take, and can take and burn in existing coal-fired power stations, all the coal that is produced.

European Commission (Consultations)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his most recent consultations with the European Commission.

My right hon. Friend met the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Education on 4th March to discuss the Commission's latest proposals for collaboration on energy research.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that when his right hon. Friend met the Commission it confirmed that in no way whatsover does membership of the EEC prevent us from controlling our own rate of depletion of North Sea oil, that we alone and not the EEC decide where we can sell our oil and that in no way whatsoever are we prevented from selling it to the EEC or the rest of the world at a price fixed by us alone? Will he communicate those facts to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who continues to distort the truth?

I doubt whether my right hon. Friend discussed those matters with the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Education. It does not appear likely that that would be the content of the conversation. I have given answers to most of the detailed points made by the hon. Gentleman and it is open to the House to read the conclusions arrived at and published by the Government in their White Paper.

Petrol Distribution Policy

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement about the intended petrol distribution policies of the British National Oil Corporation.

It will be for BNOC to formulate its policies when it is set up. I would expect production to be BNOC's first priority.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that currently about 60 per cent. of retail sales and outlets are through oil company-owned sites? As it seems to be taking a Government Department a long time to do something to ensure genuine competiiton in petrol retail distribution, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he thinks that BNOC could do something about this?

In the first instance, as I have said to my hon. Friend, BNOC's priority will be to get into production, but it is the Government's intention to make sure that it becomes a fully integrated oil company.

Is it not a fact that, contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), the margin at many of the retail outlets for petrol has sunk to almost nothing and this is causing grave dismay among those responsible for running this business?

I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to complain that I had removed price control on petrol. In any case, some of the margins have gone down as a result of competition, and I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of competition.