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Production Targets

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

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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?

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.