National Nuclear Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the signing of the agreement for shareholding in the National Nuclear Corporation, giving the proportion of shares to be held by both public and private interests.
Discussions for the restructuring of the shareholding of the National Nuclear Corporation are still in progress. I am therefore not yet ready to make a statement.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a matter of the utmost national importance? Will he give an assurance that there will be no automatic General Electric Company monopoly and that details of any agreement reached will be made known in full to the House of Commons?
I recognise the importance of the point. The GEC has a supervisory contract. When I am in a position to make a statement I shall do so.
As the pressure tube reactor programme has now slipped a full year since the Minister's predecessor announced the Government's decision last year, is it not becoming a matter of great urgency that the structure of the National Nuclear Corporation should be sorted out so that Dr. Ned Franklin, managing director of NPC, should be given clear and firm terms of reference to get on with what is, in the view of the right hon. Gentleman, an essential part of the Government's energy strategy?
Gas Supply (Rural Areas)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will give a general direction to the British Gas Corporation to expand the network of gas supply mains in rural areas.
No, Sir. The statute imposes a duty to satisfy all reasonable demands for gas only so far as it is economical for the corporation to do so, a matter of which it is the proper judge.
Is it not in the national interest that all energy consumers should have the widest possible choice of fuel, especially in the rural areas, and that gas should be more widely available as an alternative to oil for central heating purposes?
This involves the commercial judgment of the British Gas Corporation, which looks at each proposition on its merits. If my hon. Friend has any case or area in mind, perhaps he will get in touch with me, after which I shall communicate the details to the British Gas Corporation.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with progress in the North Sea towards achieving self-sufficiency in oil.
Will the Secretary of State say how long he thinks that self-sufficiency will last? Will he give a guarantee to the nation of non-interference by himself so that this vital self-sufficiency will not be put at risk by his blunders?
The hon. Gentleman asks me about progress towards achieving self-sufficiency. He is now inviting me to look forward into the future to see how long the oil under the North Sea will last after it has been discovered. I think that on reflection he will agree that that was not an easy question to answer. I cannot answer it.
Does the Secretary of State accept that Scotland could be self-sufficient in oil within a matter of months and that it could remain self-sufficient in oil for much longer than could Britain, if we are considering merely North Sea oil? Will he make a comment on the importance of the relationship between the Scottish Assembly, which will govern a country rich in oil resources, and England, which will be importing oil?
Although I understand the hon. Lady's interest, I think that she has somewhat oversimplified these problems. She will recognise that until we are able to accomplish participation, and indeed a new framework, the oil, or any part of it, will in no sense belong to the people of this country.
Coal Industry (Finance)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what percentage increase in the price of coal would be necessary—taking no account of the elasticity of demand—for the National Coal Board to cover its costs including interest on capital.
The board aims to break even in the current financial year after covering its costs, including interest on capital.
I am glad to hear that. Is there any chance of recouping some of the enormous amount of capital we have written off for the National Coal Board in past years? Does the Minister agree with Mr. Arthur Hawkins that there is now no scope for increasing the price of coal without making it un-competitive against the price of oil?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is on another tack and is hiding his chagrin at the substantial progress that is being made by the coal industry. Mr. Arthur Hawkins must be responsible for his own statements. We live in a world in which energy must become more and more expensive.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of improving the National Coal Board's finances would be to increase productivity? Will he explain to the House why productivity has been falling since March although recruitment has been increasing?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. In two months—I think in May and June—to some extent productivity fell. The hon. Gentleman will probably have read in the Press that the unions and the National Coal Board are to cooperate and hold meetings to discuss the reasons for this fall. One reason is the training problem with new entrants to the industry. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, there are also serious geological problems.
Does the Minister agree that if we could get our productivity even within striking distance of the productivity achieved in Germany, Luxembourg and France, it would have a dramatic effect on prices and the general cost of coal in this country would go down very sharply?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's precise analogies. I have been to Western Germany and seen how coal is produced there and some of the technological progress which has been made. Although Germany has made technical progress, I think the hon. Gentleman will like to know that we in this country have nothing to be ashamed of in our technological progress. I have already said that the men, management and unions are seized of the problem of trying to increase productivity. They have substantially increased productivity over a period.
Nationalised Industry Chairmen
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairmen of the nationalised energy industries.
I meet the chairmen regularly, but a collective meeting is now unlikely before the early autumn.
Does the Minister agree that he is in duty bound to convene a meeting at an early date so that he can explain to the chairmen collectively what measures he proposes to take to regain their confidence, which has been wholly shattered after the revelations about Court Line and the right hon. Gentleman's failures and to some extent by the steel review? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that his own fallibility in taking top-level decisions is in question? What does he propose to do about trying to regain the confidence of the chairmen?
Last month I organised a collective meeting with the chairmen which had to be deferred because the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill came forward at rather short notice. I share the view that relations between Ministers and chairmen of nationalised industries are important but I have always taken the view that Ministers, being accountable to the House, have concerns that they have to safeguard. I have sought to do that and I intend to do so in the future.
Will the Minister discuss with the chairmen the ludicrous position that calls in the Press and on television day in, day out for the conservation of energy are followed by advertisements telling people to go to this or that electricity showroom or gas showroom to buy new equipment? Should there not be one showroom for gas and electricity and one meter reader to read both gas and electricity meters? Should there not be co-ordination to cut down expenses and possibly to reduce the number of chairmen and so that one chairman runs the two boards?
My hon. Friend will know that the possible combination of showrooms is under discussion. I have written to the consultative committees about it. I hope my hon. Friend will also recognise that some of the most wasteful appliances that are in use are old appliances, and if they were replaced by new ones energy would be conserved. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend puts a supplementary question to me he must let me reply. There are many modern appliances that produce great economies, not only to the householder—
But why not all in one place?
If my hon. Friend will rise to his feet I will allow him to ask endless supplementary questions. New appliances can save energy, and one would expect that information about them should be made available to customers.
North Sea Oil (Nationalisation)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his up-to-date estimate of the capital cost of his proposed nationalisation of oil interests in the North Sea.
I have nothing to add to the answer which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on 30th June.—[Vol. 894, c. 304.]
Is the Minister aware that the pound fell by as much as one cent. this morning and that sterling will continue to fall as long as he and his right hon. and hon. Friends continue to confirm that the Government are spending thousands of millions of pounds on projects such as the nationalisation of North Sea oil?
I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will realise that that is wild exaggeration. He should be aware that the cost of participation after a time will be self-financing.
Has a decision been taken on the salary of the Chairman of BNOC?
Power Stations (Coal Stocks)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that the level of coal stocks held at power stations is adequate.
Is the Minister aware of the widespread concern at the level of coal stocks held at a number of power stations throughout the country? Will he bear in mind the statement made by leaders of the National Union of Mine-workers never again to allow large stocks of coal to be held at power stations? Will he assure the House that steps will be taken before the onset of winter to repair the present situation?
I can only give the hon. Gentleman the facts. The stocks at the moment are about 17½ million tons compared with 11·8 million tons at the same time in 1974 and 19 million tons in 1973. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the stocking position has substantially improved.
North Sea Oil (European Community Proposals)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent proposals have been made within the EEC regarding the availability within the Community of North Sea oil.
There are no specific proposals. However, the EEC Council of Ministers resolved on 17th December 1974 to pursue a target of a Community oil production—both onshore and offshore—of at least 180 million tons per annum by 1985. This target does not bind individual member States.
Is the Under-Secretary aware that Mr. Simonet said that Britain would hog its oil? As we shall be the only large producers in Europe by 1980 or 1985, should not the Government make up their mind what to do with the oil? Is it to be made available to Europe at world prices? What is the Government's depletion policy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government repaired a deficiency in the statutory powers available to them by introducing proper depletion controls for the first time in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill. The question of the extent to which we should deplete our oil resources is a difficult problem to resolve, involving consideration of the amount of oil in our sector. The tone and manner in which Mr. Simonet speaks to the European Parliament is, thankfully, not a matter of ministerial responsibility.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the Common Market food surpluses, we shall not sell our oil surpluses to the Russians?
My hon. Friend is, I am sure, aware that we have no obligation to export to the EEC, although no doubt we shall consider it to be a natural market for some of the oil we produce.
As the figure of anticipated British production which was given to the Community was 180 million tons by 1985, how comes it that the British Government do not consider themselves bound by it?
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on that. The figure is for the whole Community production and includes present Community oil production of 10 million tons. I understand that the EEC took the figures in the Brown Book issued by the British Government as the basis for the British component of the European total, but it is a European total. In future one will have to take into account within that 180 million tons oil acquired from La Mer d'Iroise in the French sector, the Greenland concessions which for this purpose are part of the EEC and also the Irish sector. It will be readily seen that much more than British resources are involved in the 180 million tons.
As the answer to my Question is totally unsatisfactory, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.
Waste Heat Recovery
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what measures he is taking to encourage British industry to harness the wasted heat from factory chimneys.
Recovery of waste heat is a technique already widely practised in industry, but there is scope for its further extension. The Government's energy conservation campaign seeks to encourage industry to review critically all aspects of its use of energy.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware, however, that a firm called Peter Brotherhood, of Peterborough, has apparently made a breakthrough in the technology of this subject but that successive British Governments have failed to make use of the technique, although American firms have seen its value and have signed large contracts? Will he have an investigation made as a matter of urgency into this apparent technological breakthrough?
I will do so.
Since this is another demonstration of the Government's lack of sense of urgency about energy conservation, should not more funds be made available for this purpose rather than for nationalisation?
The hon. Gentleman knows that what he has said is not true. He knows very well that the Department's chief scientist has been examining this whole question. In the "Save It" campaign there will be publications and publicity to assist towards conserving heat.
I welcome my hon. Friend's undertaking to look at the Peterborough invention, but will he also look at the steps which could be taken greatly to improve the efficiency in energy consumption of Battersea power station, in particular through the use of pulverised domestic refuse taken from Cringle Dock, which I believe the GLC is anxious to develop with the Central Electricity Generating Board, which apparently is being rather slow in coming to a decision?
My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Energy said that the Government were not proud in issues of conservation. We will examine any proposition put to us from either side of the House.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further discussions he has had with interested parties in the United Kingdom concerning EEC proposals that summer time should be restricted in order to promote energy conservation; and if he will make a statement.
The Commission's proposal is not that summer time should be restricted but that it should be introduced in those member States which do not have it, and that the dates of summer time should be harmonised by mutual agreement. Primary responsibility for a summer-time arrangement in the United Kingdom rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who will be considering, with others concerned, whether the EEC discussions give rise to a need for consultations.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that any tampering with our present summer-time arrangements would give rise to widespread resentment? Can he therefore indicate whether, in his judgment, there is very much substance in the argument that an alteration in any way of the summer-time arrangements could conserve energy?
I have pointed out that we shall be talking about mutual arrangements. Clearly the experience of the United Kingdom would come into any negotiations or discussions on the matter. Other aspects, such as those involving transport, are matters for the Ministers concerned.
Will my hon. Friend inform the Secretary of State that we have had enough of this mucking about with our summer time? We had the experience under the last Labour Government when someone took a Bill out of a pigeon hole and a new arrangement for summer time was foisted on us. Do not let us have any such nonsense again. Let us remain precisely where we are.
I am aware of my hon. Friend's views. No doubt he is referring to the use of British Standard Time. I think the whole House agrees that the disadvantages were found to be greater than the advantages.
North Sea Oil (Landing)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the first consignment of North Sea oil to land at Grangemouth.
British Petroleum is in close touch with my Department and keeps us fully informed of progress. It is not practicable to state a precise date, but BP advises me that it expects the first oil to arrive about the end of October at Grangemouth. Production at the wellhead will have started some weeks before then and the interval is required to fill up the long pipelines under sea and on land.
In order properly to celebrate this auspicious occasion, will my hon. Friend organise a reception, to which would be invited representatives of BP, the Scottish TUC, local Labour councillors, Members of Parliament and his own good self, all of whom are working hard to provide more jobs for Scottish workers in the oil idustry? Will he also confirm that virtually every drop of oil from the Forties field will be piped to Grangemouth? Does he agree that certain remarks made a few weeks ago when the first batch of North Sea oil was landed in the Thames Estuary were merely typical of the churlish chauvinism of the Scottish National Party?
My hon. Friend has interesting ideas on the question which no doubt BP will note. I agree that this is a very important occasion and one worthy of widespread celebration. In relation to the comparison with the Argyll field, I am glad to note that my hon. Friend is seized of the point. What is ridiculous in certain comments about the Argyll field situation is that on any median line basis it would fall in the English sector and that for others to claim it is simply economic nationalism or imperialism on their part.
When the oil flows freely to Grangemouth, will the hon. Gentleman indicate whether the Government are of opinion that the present refining capacity is sufficient to cope with it or whether it is likely that further refineries will be required? Will he make a statement on that subject to an early date?
My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Energy made an extremely important statement on refining policy on 6th December, and that remains the general view of the Government. The main problem in relation to North Sea oil is changing the type of refining capacity so that it can take North Sea oil instead of the crude oil from the Middle East which has been the traditional source of supply.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what measures he is planning to secure adequate energy supplies and savings for the coming winter.
I am currently advised that stocks and supplies should be adequate to see us through the winter. Contingency plans are available should they be needed. I shall continue to develop measures to achieve savings, including the current publicity campaign.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Department's contingency plans cover the worst that could happen this coming winter, such as severe weather after four mild winters and also a substantial increase in the cost of Middle East crude? Both these factors are possible.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. Any Secretary of State for Energy may run the risk in the winter of having to look back on an overoptimistic forecast made on a hot summer day. I underline what my hon. Friend has said. The House and the country should know that in winter there are risks from weather and of other interruptions and dislocations, so we have to be careful. Contingency plans have been prepared with that in mind.
What has been the expenditure of the Government on the conservation advertising programme carried out so far? What is to be the budgeted figure for the remainder of the year?
That is another question, but I will furnish the hon. Gentleman with the precise figures.
Should it not be a matter of concern to my right hon. Friend that the consumption of electricity is actually down on what it was three years ago, and that this is the first time there has been such a situation in the history of our electricity supply industry? Consumption has been dropping over the past two years. Does not this situation reflect the low level of industrial productivity? Should not this be a matter of grave concern to the Government?
Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend has an unrivalled knowledge of the industry and is quite right in what he has said. As a result of the recession, the consumption of electricity is well below what it has been and could be. That gives us some margin, but no satisfaction should flow from that margin because it still leaves the hazards of the winter in the electricity supply and other fuel industries.
Even on a hot summer's day, can the right hon. Gentleman say what research his Department or any other agency is conducting into solar heating, domestically or industrially? If so, what results, if any, have there been?
There is, of course, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Energy Technology Support Unit at Harwell. There are a number of national and international programmes, including the topic of solar energy, although our normal weather conditions do not make solar energy top priority in the United Kingdom. However, there are other forms of non-conventional energy consumption which are being vigorously explored.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the Government's targets for the production of coal and North Sea oil and gas in tons of coal equivalent for the present year, and for the years 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, respectively.
The Government do not set targets for the production of coal, North Sea oil and gas.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that some people will regard his reply with doubt in terms of the Government's efficiency in looking at future energy supplies? Is he aware that the cost of the oil from the North Sea could be so high that the oil supplied from the OPEC countries could undersell it at any given time? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to our having a national fuel policy, taking into account greater investment required in coal mining so that we can make it more attractive and recruit more men and youths into the industry?
I appreciate what my hon. Friend has in mind, but he will recall that the forecasts contained in the 1967 White Paper were considered unwise. Therefore, such forecasts are not in my mind. He will also know that a number of major statements on fuel policy have been made by the Government since we came into office, including a tripartite coal examination with its long forward planning in respect of investment in coal. He will appreciate that the present Government are seeking to give coal its proper place in the development of our indigenous resources.
Will the right hon. Gentleman forecast how many years he thinks it will take for BNOC to equal the skill of operation and efficiency of the major oil companies operating in the North Sea?
Longer than it should—if the Opposition continue attacking it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to some extent his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) was disgraceful? Since we are estimated to have a reserve of over 800,000 million tons of coal in this country as distinct from an unknown quantity of oil under the North Sea, is it not more realistic that my right hon. Friend and his Department should set a target for the coal mining industry as something at which to aim?
My hon. Friend, who knows the coal industry very well, will appreciate that in the tripartite coal examination report—of which there was published last year both an interim and a final version—the Government committed themselves to a substantial increase in investment. They endorsed plans to stabilise deep mine production at 120 million tons a year until 1985. They also accepted a capital programme aimed at increasing opencast production to 15 million tons a year. We have no fixed upper limit of coal use, and the Government have done all they possibly can to encourage the mining industry, in which they very much believe.
Since the question concerns gas, will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise to his hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) for misleading him last week over the ICI gas contract? Does he not realise that to brandish "phoney" figures of that kind demonstrates yet another example of the Secretary of State's capacity to mislead with his foetid imagination?
The right hon. Gentleman is totally wrong again, as on so many other occasions in the past. I was asked a question, without prior notice, in the Select Committee about a matter into which I had inquired. I gave the information which was available to me and wrote to the Chairman of the Committee publishing the comments made by the Chairman of the British Gas Corporation.
Scotland (Secretary Of State's Visit)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his official visit to Scotland.
I had a series of meetings with regional authorities, oil companies and unions, including the STUC, and with the Offshore Supplies Office staff. I also had the opportunity to see at first hand some of the activities on one of the offshore oil production platforms in the Forties field.I was most impressed with the scale of the operations and stressed the need for a greater share of equipment orders to come to home suppliers, and the desirability of facilitating the work of the trade unions.
Did my right hon. Friend learn anything about the need for greater safety in North Sea diving?
Yes, Sir. Efforts are being made to deal with the hazardous problem facing divers, and I am sure that trade union involvement will be beneficial on the safety side.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are not prepared to tolerate the number of deaths and accidents which occurred last winter? Will he take steps to bring in an order under the safety health legislation to remove the exemption of North Sea industry and to ensure that we have legislation to cover safety committees and trade organisations on rigs?
I had the opportunity when in Aberdeen of meeting the inter-union off-shore committee. That committee raised with me the problems of access to rigs by trade union officials and also other matters, because it was felt that the trade union representatives were not as involved as they should have been. I echo my hon. Friend's concern about safety matters. I have asked whether those concerned will prepare for consideration a charter in this respect which I intend to discuss with the four major unions, the T&GWU, the AUEW, the Boilermakers and my hon. Friend's union, the National Union of Seamen. I shall be in touch with the oil companies on this matter because I regard safety and trade union representation as going side by side in this respect.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's energy conservation programme.
The Government's energy conservation programme continues to progress and the figures for energy consumption this year provide grounds for encouragement. The publicity campaign is continuing with increasing emphasis on advice to industry for which a pamphlet will shortly be published.My right hon. Friend will now be taking into account the recommendations he has received from his Advisory Council on Energy Conservation and looks forward to reading the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.
When will the Government stop tinkering with energy conservation matters and give them a higher priority? If the Government can find £1 billion to nationalise North Sea oil and can find a further £1 billion to set up the BNOC, why cannot they find relatively small sums to indulge in constructive capital investment in fuels which will produce a more rational energy use and bring a positive return to the national economy?
If the hon. Gentleman will not believe the Government's reply on this subject, perhaps he will believe the evidence in the large industries concerned which have made substantial savings in energy conservation. That is the important fact, and the evidence can be examined. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a scheme covering grants and loans which is of assistance to industry. Nevertheless having heard the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and remembering that he fought the last election on a freedom platform, I am beginning to conclude that he sees the conservation campaign being achieved only by the introduction of the most Draconian measures.
Will the Minister confirm that among the energy conservation measures which should commend themselves to the House are long-term contracts such as those between the British Gas Corporation and ICI? Will he take the opportunity, since the Secretary of State for Energy would not do so, to apologise to, in addition to the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), the Chairman of the British Gas Corporation for the partial, selective and misleading information he gave to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries? Will he tell the House whether he agrees that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is slipping badly even in his new job?
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is "slipping badly" but certainly the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) must have defective hearing. His supplementary question was answered previously by my right hon. Friend. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman has to pose a point which has already been answered.
Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received from the unions and the National Coal Board on the need for further Government financial support for the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme.
The National Union of Mineworkers raised the matter during my right hon. Friend's meeting with it on 23rd June and mentioned it again in a letter dated 4th July.
Will my hon. Friend accept that whereas the new scheme is widely welcomed in the mining communities, there is a gap in the scheme's existing arrangements in respect of widows and commuted cases? Does he agree that if the Government were prepared to find a few additional million pounds for the scheme these cases will be brought into its ambit?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for mentioning that the pneumoconiosis scheme is of great benefit to thousands of people. The fact that the Government made a £100 million contribution has gone some way to assist the situation. I should like to make it clear to my hon. Friend that although we are talking in terms of sums of money there is no danger of any legitimate claims not being met. The scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the NUM. It is for those parties to discuss any amendments to the scheme such as those my hon. Friend has outlined to the House.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the present situation as a result of the scheme seems to indicate that a proper actuarial assessment was not made of the amount of money required to do justice to all the people who have been referred to by my hon. Friend? Is he aware that there are people who have settled out of court for minimal sums although they suffer from a high degree of disability? There are the widows who lost their husbands in the same circumstances as widows who lost their husbands after the specified date, but they receive only a miserable sum. Should there not be a proper actuarial assessment of the money required?
My hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the House to the anomalies that exist in the scheme concerning commuted cases and the question of widows. I must remind him that the scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the NUM. It is not a departmental scheme. It was not calculated actuarially as such by the Department but was discussed and agreed by the NUM and the National Coal Board. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that the starting of the scheme with £100 million has made a substantial contribution towards the scheme which has been beneficial to so many people.
North Sea Oil (Extraction)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement about the progress which is being made in the extraction of oil from the North Sea.
I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 30th June by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor).—[Vol. 894, c. 303–4.]
What special contribution does the Minister hope will be made by BNOC to the speedy and efficient extraction of oil from the North Sea? What lessons will he learn from the history of other nationally-owned corporations which should be applied in the case of BNOC?
I am confident that BNOC will make a constructive contribution to the exploitation of our Continental Shelf resources. It will also secure for this country adequate control and a proper return on what is a very important national asset.
Will my hon. Friend inform the official Opposition that their continued sniping at old-established nationalised industries is all to no avail when we are discussing the coal industry? After all, we have spent millions of pounds to restore years and years of Conservative neglect of the coal industry, whereas oil is a virgin area and we are dealing with it in the right way by taking public control.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Opposition are behaving true to form.
Gas And Electricity Disconnections
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many households have had gas and electricity supplies, respectively, cut off because of the non-payment of accounts in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and by what percentage these figures have increased or fallen compared with five years previously.
As the detailed information requested is not readily available, I will ask the chairmen of the industries to write to the hon. Member. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad to take similar action in relation to the electricity industry in Scotland.
Is not the Minister aware that this information is available in Scotland and that I have obtained it? Is it not outrageous for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is increasing electricity prices by such a substantial amount, not to have information about the number of people whose supplies of electricity and gas are cut off because they are unable to pay their bills? Is this not a major and frightening problem in Britain? Should not the electricity boards be instructed by the Minister, as are the gas boards, to ensure that every possible way of making the payment of bills easier should be investigated, and in particular the direct payment of bills of people on long-term benefit by the Supplementary Benefit Commission?
The hon. Gentleman must know that I am not the Minister responsible for the South of Scotland Electricity Board. I can give him only the England and Wales figures. In terms of electricity, the number of domestic and commercial consumers disconnected was 120,000—that is, 0·7 per cent. of the total number. The figure for gas is about 34,000 cut-offs, or 0·36 per cent. of credit customers. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I am very anxious about the winter with substantially higher bills for gas and electricity consumers coming at a time when there will be a number of people unemployed, others on short time and others facing various difficulties. I have, as I promised the House, seen the Chairman of the Electricity Council about the matter. I am writing to him as well as to Members of Parliament about the position, because it is of great concern to the whole community that a general desire to bring the nationalised industries into balance should not be followed by disconnections of a kind that would create serious hardship for many families.