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United States Policy

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will next discuss with the United States Administration the implications of United States energy policy for the United Kingdom.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet his American counterpart, Dr. Schlesinger.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what account he is taking of the recent statements of President Carter in formulation of energy policy.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will reappraise Her Majesty's Government's policy on the reprocessing of nuclear waste, in the light of remarks of President Carter on the United States policy and its effects on the United Kingdom.

I met Dr. Schlesinger and others during my visit to the United States from 3rd to 6th April for discussions. I have no immediate plans for a further meeting with the United States Administration but I shall seek another opportunity later.

I welcome President Carter's proposed programme and particularly its emphasis on energy conservation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already stated that the Government are re-examining non-proliferation policy. The broad issues involved were, of course, among the major themes of the Heads of Government meeting on 7th and 8th May.

If the right hon. Gentleman welcomes President Carter's belief in conservation, why is it that he is not implementing any effective depletion policy for the North Sea? If the United States forecast is correct, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the demand for oil will exceed supply from 1985 onwards and that the value of oil will increase. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it stands to reason that it would be for the benefit of the community if there were a conservation programme that left more oil to be developed when scarcity values comes into effect?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's points. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about depletion, because Parliament has granted depletion powers to Ministers that allow us to phase the development of the oil. Until self-sufficiency has been secured, there is some merit in encouraging exploration so that the option is available to us. I cannot endorse the United States forecast. The strange thing is that the world is not yet even agreed on the scale and timing of an energy gap, although a great deal of discussion concentrates on that issue.

Although the House should be able to support the Secretary of State in his determination to increase the conservation side of the energy equation, is it not rather pitiful that thus far, since the end of 1973, what has been achieved in conservation has been only a few percentage points? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that his Department urges other parts of Whitehall and British industry to do more?

A major exercise is in progress under my hon. Friend who, in the Department, is responsible for conservation with Ministers from other Departments in preparation for a greater conservation programme. As the House will appreciate, conservation falls across many Departments, not merely my own. Every Department uses energy, or is responsible for industries or operations that use energy. What has been achieved has not been bad considering that it takes some time to build up programmes. Some of it has been related to the slump, which is not entirely welcome, anyway. Over a period we shall be putting the maximum effort into conservation as expenditure in conservation may be a cheaper way of bridging the so-called energy gap than enormous expenditures on generating energy by other means.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that in Europe there is the fullest understanding of President Carter's attitudes and ideas to make sure that we have the fairest policies compatible with United Kingdom interests in Europe? It seems that there may be one law for the United Kingdom and another for other members of the Community in United Kingdom energy matters.

The House knows that I suggested at the last Energy Council that I chaired that conservation should be discussed and that at the next Energy Council nuclear policy will be discussed. At any rate, the two ingredients of American energy policy are to go before the Council of Ministers in Brussels. It is difficult to harmonise EEC energy policy, which we shall be discussing in the House tomorrow night, because there are wide differences of interest. Naturally, every country wishes to maintain control over its own energy policy. Every country in the Community sees that as being central to its national interest.

What progress has been made between the Departments of Energy and Transport in formulating transport policies that conserve energy?

The use of energy in transport is one of the major areas of interest. My hon. Friend who chairs the interdepartmental examination of these matters is closely in touch with the Department of Transport. We are involved, but every Department has a capacity to contribute towards energy conservation. It is my desire that matters should be organised so that the interdepartmental examination does just that.