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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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Untitled Debate

At the beginning of another week, I appeal for brevity in supplementary questions and answers. Brevity is only fair to those who wish to stand a chance of being called.


Electricity Discount Scheme


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the working of the electricity discount scheme.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many claims had been received under the electricity discount scheme at the most recent available date; what was the total value of the discounts provided; and how the take-up compares with original estimates.

In the period to 13th May, claims from about 1·2 million households to a total value of just over £8 million had been reported to Departments. These represent about 44 per cent. of the estimated eligible population of 2¾ million householders on supplementary benefit or family income supplement. But claims are still being received in considerable numbers and although nearly all relevant accounts have now been sent out eligible consumers have until the end of June to claim their discount. While I am glad that so many have already claimed this help with their electricity bills, I hope that many more of those receiving supplementary benefit or family income supplement will do so before the scheme finally ends.

I am grateful for that answer. Will the Minister consider for the future some constructive preparation for developing a really secure token system—a self-cancelling meter system for the coming winter, when we can anticipate many more families than those covered by the existing scheme being affected by the increasingly high price of fuel?

I can assure the hon. Lady that, together with the industries, we are looking very carefully at the proposition that she has made about developing a token meter scheme. It is not as simple as it at first appears. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a very close interest in this matter and we shall report on the progress made as soon as we can.

Does the Minister agree that the people the scheme is most designed to benefit are being deprived because the supplementary benefits offices are recommending that they should claim rent rebates instead of supplementary benefit? Therefore, is it not a fact that these people lose out as a result?

I do not agree with that point. People can choose, and if they feel that it would be better to revert to supplementary benefit they are free to do so. That is a matter upon which they can make a decision.

As for knowing whether they can claim, everyone who was thought to be eligible to participate in the scheme was given a leaflet. The scheme was advertised in offices of the electricity boards and elsewhere, there has been a Press campaign, and I have been on the radio to talk about it. We have done everything we can to ensure that the people who are eligible can get this help.

Is the Minister aware that the calculation whether a person is better off with rate rebates or supplementary benefits is extremely complex? Officials of the DHSS offices themselves admit that they cannot do it, and hon. Members find it difficult. Does not the low take-up of only 44 per cent. indicate that these one-off means-tested benefits are futile, and would it not be better to increase benefits, such as pensions?

I do not accept that helping a considerable number of households with what may be very high electricity bills is a futile exercise. I do agree, however, with what my hon. Friend says about the calculations for benefits in general being complicated. If people experience difficulty in making such calculations they should seek help from the appropriate bodies. I agree that a general increase in benefits and pensions is desirable, but this is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security.

Since the administrative costs of the scheme are £2·5 million and present claims have reached a total of £8 million, does this not mean that the scheme is one of the most expensive ever launched? Is there not considerable point behind the question raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Rooker)?

I do not accept that. The hon. Member is suggesting that the whole of the sum allocated to administering the scheme has been spent. All the evidence to date shows that we have spent less than £1 million on administering the scheme.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will now reconsider his earlier decision not to allow mobile home owners to qualify for assistance within the provisions of the electricity discount scheme.

No. I regret that I am unable to extend the scheme to cover owners of mobile homes who do not pay for their electricity direct to an electricity board. The reasons remain as set out in my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member of 25th March.

Does the Minister agree that this attitude represents discrimination against mobile home owners, particularly as they are so often people who are living on low incomes? Is it not possible to assist them, providing that they themselves are responsible for the paper work and the collection of evidence?

We have looked very carefully at the problem to which the hon. Member has referred because it affects people in other situations as well—those who pay for their electricity to a landlord rather than direct to an electricity board—but for reasons that the Opposition know very well, we had to have a scheme that was easy to administer and avoided abuse. We had to base the scheme on some easily identifiable paper work. That is why it was restricted to those families who received a bill direct from a board. There is a tremendous proliferation of other means by which people pay their bills to landlords, and it would have been impossible to encompass them all in a scheme of this kind. We very much regret it, but that is the fact of the matter.

Is the Minister aware that it is almost entirely the least affluent members of society who are unable to take advantage of this scheme? Does he not think that he could do a little more work with a little real determination to try to find a solution to the problem?

In any event it is clearly too late to do it for the period of this scheme, but we try to help those who are generally recognised as being most in need—those in receipt of supplementary benefit and family income supplement—and because the overwhelming majority of them are eligible they will have the opportunity to benefit.

Coal Industry (Productivity Agreements)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what assessment his Department has made in conjunction with others of the effect on productivity in the mines that might be achieved through the signing of pit-by-pit productivity agreements.

A number of variations are possible and unless and until a particular scheme is agreed it is impossible to estimate what effects it might have on productivity.

Does the Minister agree that we shall need a lot more coal and nuclear power if we are to overcome the energy gap for some years to come? Will he therefore give full support to a pit-by-pit productivity deal and explain how the increase in wages of about £20 a week would be incorporated into any future pay deal?

The House has previously endorsed the Government's policies on the question that there should be more coal production in this country and that the industry has a very vital and powerful rôle to play.

We have already introduced support for an incentive scheme in the shape of the report of the tripartite inquiry in 1974, which the unions themselves agreed upon. As to a particular scheme. we have said that that is a matter for the unions to negotiate themselves, because there has been a working party meeting on the subject.

I agree that production is of great importance, but will my hon. Friend say whether he has discussed this with the inspectorate? Production may be a matter for the board and the unions, but safety is also important. If he has not met the inspectorate will he do so at an early date?

I have not met the inspectorate recently, but in my regular pit visits I meet the mines inspectors. Safety in the mining industry is of paramount importance not only to the inspectorate but to the unions and the people who work in the mining industry.

Will the hon Gentleman now consider showing to the House and to the country the profit and loss records for each mine? I believe that this would make all these matters much easier to discuss than they are at the moment.

I have not those figures, but I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It may be of help to the House to know that last year, 1976–77, productivity in terms of output per man-shift, in the mines, was 43·6 cwt. Recently it has been around 46 cwt. Therefore, there has been some improvement.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while we all, miners included, want to reduce unit costs—that is to say, increase productivity—the dog-eat-dog pit against pit system, as advocated by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), could be extremely counter-productive both in terms of industrial cost and industrial safety? Does he recall that after the 1966 power loading agreement, which gave a stable wage round the country, there was an 8 per cent. increase in productivity?

I have a very personal experience in this. If putting forward an incentive scheme would mean a return to the old piece-rate system I am certain that the unions themselves would have no part in it, and neither would the men. But the proposition that has been put forward, as I understand it, is not for a return to the old piece-rate scheme; it is a different proposition entirely. Incidentally, the agreement or understanding has been reached as a result of a joint working party between the unions themselves.

Does the Minister agree that the existing scheme has been a failure, that payment has been made only on one occasion, and that if we are to raise productivity in the mining industry there has to be a solid cash incentive, which can come only from a re-drawn incentive scheme?

It is generally accepted that the existing scheme has not been very satisfactory, but the working party was set up for the purpose of discussing an incentive scheme that would be acceptable to the men and to the unions, and there would be a necessary financial reward as a consequence of it.

Oil Pollution


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Offshore Oil Producers Association concerning methods of preventing and controlling oil pollution in the North Sea.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what lessons have been learned by his Department, following his inspection of the scene of the recent blow-out in the Ekofisk oilfield.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that adequate arrangements exist for the protection of British economic and environmental interests in the event of accidents in connection with offshore operations.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what plans he has for improving oil pollution control in the North Sea.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further action is proposed for safety improvement and to stem pollution in the North Sea following the Ekofisk blow-out.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will outline the steps being taken to prevent a blow-out in British North Sea oilfields and the action required to be taken if one should occur.

The Ekofisk blow-out has demonstrated the hazards associated with offshore oil and gas production, and the Government are urgently valuating the lessons and implications for our national interests offshore. I discussed the risks involved with the Norwegian Minister in London and Oslo before and after the blow-out and have held two meetings with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association. An interdepartmental study group has been set up and has reported on the immediate departmental responses to the blow out. As to the precise cause, we must await the findings of the Norwegian inquiry. We are reviewing the capacity of United Kingdom offshore operators to deal with any similar incidents on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf.

I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered. Mr. Biffen.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the responsibility for oil pollution must primarily rest with the oil companies themselves? Secondly, does he agree that the oil companies should be permitted pricing policies that would enable them to generate the resources to execute the high standards of environmental protection that are generally required?

I do not think that anybody could really argue that the Government are, by their pricing policy for North Sea oil, preventing the oil companies from having proper security arrangements. We do not control the price. In fact, North Sea oil is commanding a premium price on world markets because of its low sulphur content.

With regard to the first part of the question, from examination of the matter in greater detail it would appear that the oil companies can charge the costs as operating costs and reduce the revenue to the Exchequer. I have taken this point up with them and intend to pursue it.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he did not use the services of Bristow Helicopters when he visited the scene of the Ekofisk blow out? Will he condemn those oil producers who use the services of a company that is so hostile to the trade union movement?

As the helicopters dispute is now affecting the BP refinery at Grangemouth, will he tell BP, of all people—because we still have a majority public stake in that company—that it should not be using the services of a company that attempts to use jackboot tactics against the trade union movement?

I did not go to Norway, or to see the blow-out, using helicopters from that company. I made a very clear public reference to the dispute when I spoke at the Scottish Trades Union Congress. I have called in all the oil companies to discuss with me the possible implications of the dispute. My view on this is known.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that prior to Bravo there were substantial claims that the precautionary arrangements in Norwegian waters were superior to those in any other waters? Does he agree that while jingoism in this area might be entirely inappropriate he must demonstrate that the good work that has so far been done by his Department and by the oil companies is thoroughly maintained and adequately and vigilantly supervised?

I cannot confirm my hon. Friend's suggestion that the Norwegian preparations were better advanced than ours, because, fortunately, we have not had the opportunity of testing how our reactions would have developed. But I think that there are clearly important lessons to be learned from this event. I intend to see that those lessons are learned and that necessary actions are taken in a whole range of areas, which I have already discussed twice with the operators and intend to pursue most vigorously with them.

Will the Government have full co-operation with Norway and other countries in order that they should be able to deal with such a situation if another blow-out occurred. Will the Government ensure that there is the maximum of public participation of the ownership of the oilfields in the area? Will the Minister look again at the sale of the BP shares?

As I said in my earlier answer, I discussed this matter with the Norwegian Minister in London in September. There were also discussions before the blow-out in April. On the Sunday following the blow-out I went over to discuss the matter with the Norwegians and they have proposed that a conference should be held in June, at which time there would be a further opportunity to discuss it.

Clearly, we must see that the risk is minimised and that should such a thing occur again our resources will be adequate. I am not entirely satisfied now that that is so.

Is the Minister aware that the Central Unit of Environmental Polution forecast that the East Coast of Scotland was at great risk and that the blow-out that occurred has increased the unease that exists over this? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, regardless of cost either to the companies or through lost revenue to the Government, all safety precautions will be taken to ensure that such a catastrophe will not spoil the natural and economic coastal environment of Scotland?

Not only the East Coast of Scotland but all coastlines around the North Sea could be affected. In fact, the prevailing wind drove the slick towards Norwegian waters, and that caused the greatest concern. We had not forecast what would occur, but we had anticipated a risk. I am therefore determined that the oil companies, together with the Government, should take the necessary precautions to minimise what must be a continuing risk, because no one can guarantee against human or technical accidents.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of their expenditure the oil companies devote to measures for the prevention and control of oil pollution?

I cannot answer that question without notice, but if I were to ask the oil companies about the extent of their preparations they would argue that much of their equipment that is used for general purposes, such as supply vessels and barges, would be available for dealing with a blow-out. It would be difficult to identify a particular amount and separate it from the rest of their expenditure.

In view of the vital part played by divers in the inspection of pipelines in order to avoid spillage, will the right hon. Gentleman join with me and my colleagues in trying to persuade the Treasury to reconsider its policy of no longer allowing divers to be self-employed, because that could lead to industrial action?

That is a wholly different question. I am aware of it and I have received representations about it. It is a matter for the Treasury. However, I am concerned about the loss of life among divers and about blow-outs. The most important single thing that we can now do to maintain safety standards is to ensure that there is full trade union representation on the platforms and rigs, so that safety regulations are fully carried out.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what responsibility for North Sea oil pollution will be assumed by the British National Oil Corporation in return for its interest in the oil.

The BNOC is responsible, as a licensee, in the same way as the other companies, for any liability arising from offshore oil pollution. In the case of participation oil, however, the companies have agreed to indemnify the Corporation for its liability under the various licences until such time as the Corporation may take possession of the oil.

Does that not seem a strange arrangement? Since BNOC owns 51 per cent. of the oil and since, as we have seen recently, pollution comes first and arguments start afterwards, is the right hon. Gentleman entirely satisfied that if we had a disaster there would not be arguments that would continue while pollution was spreading? Can he give us a categoric assurance that the arrangements that he has outlined really will stand?

In the event of an accident, there will be no arguments that will deflect us from getting on with stopping the trouble and clearing up the consequences. The BNOC is negotiating to become a member of the Offshore Pollution Liability Association. There are obviously commercial insurance propositions that will be attractive not only to individual private sector companies but to the BNOC itself. It is important to distinguish between the BNOC's owning 51 per cent. and intending to exercise its option, and this is a matter to be dealt with by the Corporation at the appropriate time. We have an agreement, and I think that we shall get along very well with that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Ekofisk blow-out seems to point to the desirability of establishing an organisation comprising all countries with seaboards on the North Sea? Does he further agree that if an emergency arose on any drilling rig, irrespective of who owns it, immediate emergency operations should be put into effect, and that this would require the co-operation of all nations bordering the North Sea? What direction have his inquiries taken?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The action of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in going immediately to see the Norwegian Minister after the Ekofisk blow-out is proof of our cohesion, at least with our Norwegian friends, in dealing with these matters. Other countries are less immediately involved, except with the consequences of any incident, but we hope to try to get an understanding at the June conference that was mentioned earlier by my right hon. Friend. It is arguable whether there should be a North Sea riparian agreement with a system of inter-governmental control or a system under which the companies police themselves and the States inspect the policing, but Governments and the companies all agree that we cannot allow these incidents to happen.

National Union Of Mineworkers


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers.

My right hon. Friend and I have frequent meetings with NUM leaders to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Do the Minister and the Secretary of State agree that it is high time that we got rid of this tiresome argument about the construction of Drax B? Has the Minister noticed during the last few days the propaganda—ranging from that put out by Woodrow Wyatt to that of the Financial Times—putting forward the Arnold Weinstock line, of which I thought we had heard the last, especially from the Cabinet? Must we not provide the necessary jobs and incomes and ensure a market for coal?

My hon. Friend must be aware that the matter has been considered by the House and that the Secretary of State intimated to the House, when I was present, that he had met the Central Electricity Generating Board on this matter. I am sure that my hon. Friend saw the statement by the Prime Minister on 12th May giving an assurance that the order for Drax B would be made with the minimum of delay.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the order for Drax B will be put out to competitive tender and that the tender will be discussed by the House?

My understanding is that this project will be put out to competitive tender. I cannot say whether it would be specially brought before the House.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the placing of the order for Drax B should not be dependent on the reorganisation of the industry, which is now going forward, and that the order should be placed, as the Minister has already said, without further delay? Does my hon. Friend also agree that when the reorganisation of the industry takes place we should be one of the vested interests making a noise to ensure that the industry is not dominated by one person and that there is a large public stake in the reorganised industry?

The Secretary of State for Industry is dealing with this matter and I am sure that if my hon. Friend put those questions to him my right hon. Friend would be only too pleased to explain the answers.

Will the Minister assure the House that there is Cabinet unanimity on the matter of Drax B?

Will the Minister clarify his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser)? Did he say quite categorically that the order for Drax B, if placed, would be put out to competitive tender?

I said that I understood that when such orders were placed, they were put out to competitive tender. I qualified my statement by saying that I understood it to be so. As for whether the matter would be specially brought before the House, I said that I was not in a position to answer.

Uranium (Control And Supply)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what conversations he has had with the United States Administration about the future control and supply of enriched uranium, so far as it affects the United Kingdom and consultations internationally.

My Department keeps in close touch with the United States Administration on all matters connected with fissile materials required for nuclear power programmes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new policies of the United States Administration on nuclear fuel supplies and reprocessing must call into question some of the assumptions upon which the British nuclear power industry has operated up to now? Are these assumptions being revised, and what implications are there in this for overseas contracts for reprocessing?

My hon. Friend is right in saying that a new emphasis is being given in these matters, but it is worldwide, not just in the United States. Leadership is also being given by the United Kingdom and other countries in trying to prevent the proliferation of technologies that could lead to the spread of nuclear weapons. It is a matter with considerable international implications. It is also true that many countries are now engaged in a political review—that is, a ministerial review—of nuclear policy and the assumptions that have underlain that policy and that have, perhaps, gone unexamined for some time. This is now seen as an urgent matter all over the world.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the point made by John Nye at the Salzburg Conference recently—that, on the face of it, the American provisions for export licensing under the so-called MB 10 clause are inconsistent with the longer-term contracts of the kind envisaged by the Japanese and BNFL?

I could not answer that in detail in a reply to a supplementary question. However, it is widely agreed—and I also take this view—that the proliferation and the risk of proliferation of such technology must be dealt with on the basis of international action and by an internationally agreed and enforced proposal. There are many countries for which nuclear power plays a part in meeting their energy needs, but there is also a need to prevent the proliferation of sensitive technologies, and that must have the highest priority in the view of any sensible Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a responsible and knowledgeable nation that takes the view that if the policy of President Carter were generally applied it would in the end result in greater proliferation of processing rather than the opposite?

I am aware of the argument that if we shake confidence in the availability of materials under proper supervision it may have the opposite effect to that intended. However, it is important that those countries with a background and a trade in nuclear power, such as the United Kingdom, should make it clear that non-proliferation must be a prime purpose and that within that framework such trade as takes place should be fully and completely safeguarded.

In considering the approach of the President of the United States will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the major lead that Great Britain has in fast breeder reactors—where, for a change, the Americans are technologically and practically way behind us—is used to get a major breakthrough both for our own energy and for earning foreign income?

That is a separate but relevant and connected question. The Government policy towards the basic decision on the CFRI will be taken in the light of a number of factors. The United States Government have taken a decision on Clinch River, and I read in the newspapers, though I do not have a full account of it, that the Germans may have frozen some of the funds for their fast breeder programme. We shall look at the fast breeder decision in the light of a number of factors, including economic factors.

Gas And Electricity Prices


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement about Government policy in regard to prices charged by the gas and electricity industries and the likelihood or otherwise of further subsidies to those industries.

We believe that gas and electricity should be priced at economic levels which reflect the cost of supply, encourage the best use of national energy resources, and maintain the industries on a sound financial basis.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that despite previous mis-demeanours on the part of previous Governments we are now reformed characters on the Opposition Benches and warmly approve of his answer?

The hon. Gentleman does not have to convince us that he and his hon. Friends are reformed characters. He has to convince the electorate, and I think that that will be a marginally harder job.

Will my hon. Friend comment on the exaggerated estimates that have been made of the likely increase in electricity prices as a result of the forward ordering of the Drax B power station? Will he ask the Opposition why they never quote the figure of £45 million that would be saved in social benefits as a result of the 4,000 jobs that the order would preserve? Will he also make clear that there is no question, if the order is to save jobs, of its going out to competitive tender and new designs, and that the only option, if we are to save jobs, is for the order to be a replica of Drax A?

I can only advise my hon. Friend to table a number of those Questions to the appropriate Department. As to the figures that have been mentioned in the Press, the House should be aware that there is a fair amount of discussion, if not dissatisfaction, about many of those figures and my right hon. Friend is having the whole position thoroughly examined.

Oil Platform Orders


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the number of oil platform orders likely to be placed in 1977 and 1978, respectively.

As stated in the recent report to Parliament on Development of the Oil and Gas Resources of the United Kingdom—the Brown Book—there are reasonable prospects of four to five orders for major oil production platforms up to mid-1978, with perhaps some additional orders for smaller structures during the same period.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government would not condone the proposal by Redpath Dorman Long Ltd., of Methil, in Fife, to build a platform at a loss purely for the sake of getting the order? Will he confirm that he will not allow this subsidiary of British Steel to compete on these terms with viable profit-making yards elsewhere?

I have written a most charming letter to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) explaining that we do not direct orders to any particular site or favour any particular company. The remarks attributed to Sir George Sharp, the Convenor of the Fife Regional Council, have been exaggerated.

May I ask, in a more useful than charming fashion, what research has been done and encouragement given to second generation platforms, say on the tension leg principle, that could be exported to oil developments in other parts of the world?

This is an important possibility. It is amazing how fashion changes in the oil industry. It has moved away from concrete platforms towards steel, but perhaps one day it will return to concrete. The sort of platform mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is under consideration by oil companies almost everywhere in the North Sea.

United States Policy


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.

Gas And Electricity Disconnections


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with present procedures in relation to disconnections.

Yes, Sir. All area electricity boards and gas regions have now instructed their staffs in the application of the code of practice on payment of gas and electricity bills. The industries are monitoring operation of the code and the Department of Energy is being kept informed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Despite the evidence of the Department, is he aware that there are still disconnections and that if there had been a little research—this applies especially to poor people and old-age pensioners—the disconnections or threats of disconnection would not have taken place? During the summer months will my hon. Friend try to establish better liaison between electricity and gas managements and the social service departments of local authorities?

As the code is an innovation, we recognise that there will be teething troubles. We have no evidence of any major breach of either the letter of the code or the principles behind it. If my hon. Friend knows of specific instances where he feels that the code should have protected people from disconnection but has not done so, I hope that he will refer them to me without delay.

Overseas Development

United Nations University


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what plans Her Majesty's Government have for British involvement in the development of the United Nations' University.

During the consultative meeting of the United Nations' University held at the Royal Society on 25th and 26th October 1976, which was opened by one of my predecessors, the rector and other senior members of the university were able to make contact with several British institutions. One such institution, the Tropical Products Institute, which is a part of my Ministry, has now entered into an agreement to accommodate United Nations' Universities fellows for studies concerning food loss and food conservation.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. How can the Government reconcile their frequent statements of sympathy for the developing countries with their refusal to give any financial support to what is both an imaginative and practical project that would be of great value to the relevant countries?

I am not aware that we have made any such refusal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very anxious to help. The position is that the liaison most directly occurs with the universities in Great Britain and our own specialist ODM institutions of which there are several. We shall maximise cooperation in every way we can.

Government Aid


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she is satisfied with the level of aid given by the British Government to developing countries.

The present level of overseas aid is not as high as I would wish. Future levels will be considered in the next public expenditure review, having regard to the Government's acceptance in principle of the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, which does not altogether surprise me. Does she agree that one way of avoiding fluctuations in the level of aid to overseas countries would be to set out immediately a plan for Britain to contribute a certain percentage of its GDP each year? Beyond that, will she tell us exactly what was agreed in terms of the common aid fund, which was left so vague at the Summit Meeting?

A number of considerable and important expressions of good will were made at the Summit Meeting at Downing Street. I am talking about expressions from other countries—for example, the United States. I think that this is important. We shall have to wait a little time to see how they express themselves in material terms. I am sure that in the public expenditure review this summer we shall be taking into account the atmosphere of the Summit Meeting at Downing Street and the precise statement that emerged from it.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister said that the Government were always willing to give humanitarian aid to the liberation movements of Southern Africa? How vigorously is the Department carrying out that policy? Will my right hon. Friend publish details in the Official Report?

I shall be glad to publish details in the Official Report. I think that it might help considerably to clarify some of the matters that have been in doubt. I believe that there is a Written Question to be answered later today, so I cannot go too far into detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Cambodia?"] If one is allowed to answer interjections, I hope to say something about the Cambodian question before long.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her original reply to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) sounded a little strange as in announcing his economic measures last December the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were going to reduce the money available for aid by £50 million in the current financial year and by a further £50 million in the next financial year? Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or has it been altered as a result of the Downing Street Summit Conference? If it is still the Government's policy, when is the right hon. Lady planning to announce the details of where the cuts are to be made?

I have already answered questions in the House about the effect of the cuts at the end of last year. I should be delighted to welcome the hon. Member as a recruit to the cause of resisting cuts in public expenditure.

Since President Carter and all of us in the West are deeply concerned about relations with other countries, can my right hon. Friend say what aid is being given to countries such as Chile and Indonesia? Such countries have Governments not renowned for their concern for civil rights and liberties. What studies are being carried out by her Department to develop ways of assisting countries that need aid and that could also assist development areas in this country?

We give a limited amount of aid to Chile—not to the Government of Chile, but to agencies. In particular, we give aid to the Catholic Church in Chile to help oppressed and repressed people. It is a limited amount of aid. I hope to increase it. There is a later Question about that on the Order Paper.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I am instigating studies in that area at the moment. It is important that we relate our aid and development programme to the needs of British industry. I believe that it is entirely possible to integrate the two more effectively than we have achieved so far.

Alternative Energy Sources


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what percentage of the British aid programme is devoted to assisting developing countries in projects related to wind, wave, solar or geothermal energy.

There is no specific allocation for such projects. My Ministry is, however, very ready to help in these fields. We have undertaken geothermal exploration programmes in certain countries, and we have made a small beginning in research on wind and solar power.

I welcome the beginnings that have been made, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the oil crisis has hit a great many developing countries far more savagely than it has hit the Western world? Does she accept that it is of paramount importance for such countries to develop alternative energy policies if their economies are to take off?

I entirely agree. I hope to pursue this matter within my Department. We have a number of expert advisers who specialise in the relevant aspects. I hope to pursue this problem with them, in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Energy.

United States Proposals


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what study she has made of the recent proposals of the Carter Administration in the field of overseas aid and development.

Last month I had very useful talks in Washington with Governor Gilligan, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. The development aid appropriations sought by the Carter Administration for the United States fiscal year 1978, which begins on 1st October 1977, represent, on a comparable basis, an increase of 6 per cent. over the former Administration's request for that year. The United States Government, like our own, is party to the declaration of the Downing Street Summit that

"we shall work to increase the flow of aid and other real resources from the industrial to developing countries."

May the House take it from that answer that the Minister will be pressing her colleagues to do everything possible to emulate President Carter's example in this respect? In particular, will the Minister seek to ensure that there is no mismanagement and inefficiency in our existing aid programme and that we get the best value for money, to which President Carter attached great importance in his statement to Congress?

From consultations with Governor Gilligan and his staff, it is fair to say that there is no doubt that our aid programme is extremely effective and efficient. Therefore, we do not need to feel guilty in that respect, although of course we shall keep a close eye on these matters. I do not like to use such phrases, but we must ensure that we have a full, frank and free dialogue with the Carter Administration on these matters. That is what I tried to do in Washington three weeks ago. I hope that we can help each other.

During my right hon. Friend's discussions with the Carter Administration did the question arise of co-operation over the provision of aid to countries that deny elementary human rights to their citizens?

During my discussions in Washington I had conversations with Governor Gilligan and the lady whom President Carter has appointed to be responsible for human rights issues. We had considerable discussions about the problems of deciding exactly how one relates an aid programme to human rights. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are great problems in that respect. We certainly began an interesting discussion on that matter.

Would the right hon. Lady please answer my previous question? Is she going to implement the cuts in aid in the current year and the next financial year which were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last December? Alternatively, has there been a change in Government policy on aid as a result of the meetings at the Downing Street Summit?

I thought that the hon. Member was familiar with the process. The cuts announced in the last White Paper are being implemented this year. I have already indicated that although this will cause considerable difficulties in the aid programme—and I do not underrate them—we hope that we shall not have to cut any country's allocation. The hon. Member will be equally aware that in the public expenditure review that takes place this summer we shall review all future years. I should be very happy indeed if Opposition Members supported the idea of resisting cuts to the aid programme in the context of public expenditure.

Departmental Staff (Dispersal)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she now expects the plans to relocate her Department in Scotland to be finally implemented.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, said in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 25th April that he would announce a revised timetable as soon as possible. I am unable to give further information at present.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in addition to the new Department in East Kilbride, the Ministry of Overseas Development is still considering alternative office development in Scotland to provide several hundred extra jobs? Is she aware that the Central Regional Council, in my area, has proposed several sites of office development, which I should be delighted to show to her on her next visit to Scotland?

I shall be happy to take up my hon. Friend's invitation. The location for the major part of the Ministry of Overseas Development dispersal has already been settled. We are now waiting for plans. There are a number of real problems concerning the second element of the dispersal. I welcome my hon. Friend's proposition.

Is the Minister aware that the slippage in this timetable is causing concern, because people in Scotland feel that fraudulent claims have been made about jobs being redistributed to Scotland? Since part of the Ministry is to move to East Kilbride, and since Stone-house no longer exists—knowing that the Minister shares my interest in new towns—will she consider the good claims for the cartography section to be established in Cumbernauld?

I appreciate the feelings of the hon. Lady. The East Kilbride part of the dispersal is now settled. The other element is causing genuine problems. The question of siting is open to consideration.

Crown Agents (Fay Committee's Report)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will publish the Report of the Fay Committee on the Crown Agents when she has received it; and if she will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. I shall certainly publish the report, and I shall make a full statement to the House when the report is published.

In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend instruct the Crown Agents, as one of the creditors of the fallen Stern group, to sue for bankruptcy, as is usual with most other people who are involved in bustups of this kind? Does the Minister think that it was wrong for the Bank of England to lean on the First National Bank of Chicago not to sue for bankruptcy against Sterns? Will she give assurances that if none of the 32 creditors is prepared to sue for bankruptcy against the William Stern £110 million property empire, she, as Minister responsible for the Crown Agents, will see that that action is carried out?

As I think my hon. Friend knows from previous exchanges, there is a lot of background to this.

The Crown Agents have been concerned to protect what they can of their own investments in this situation. However, my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Crown Agents informed me towards the end of last week that the formal steps necessary, prior to the institution of legal proceedings that could ultimately lead to a bankruptcy petition against Stern, have now been taken.

Sugar Cane (Fiji Meeting)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement concerning the outcome of the recent African, Caribbean and Pacific nations meeting in Fiji, with particular reference to the future of sugar cane imports to the United Kingdom.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 38.

The Community delegation to this second meeting of the ACP/EEC Council of Ministers was headed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, representing the presidency, and I led the British delegation. The meeting was considered to be a success by both the Community and our African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners in the Lomé Convention. There was frank discussion leading to genuine co-operation and mutually acceptable solutions for the major outstanding problems. The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include a number of new products, and concessions were extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho.

I took the chair at a financial working group, which worked out a resolution to define the policy for financial co-operation under the Lomé Convention. The resolution conceded an ACP request for a separate ACP/EEC sub-committee to examine the special problems of the least developed, landlocked and island countries. It was also agreed that the Seychelles and Comores should be added to the list of least developed countries in Article 48 of the Lomé Convention.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to certain products from the ACP States and to hold joint talks on others. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs.

In response to a request from the ACP States, the Community announced that it would restore the original sugar export quotas of certain ACP countries which had not delivered their full commitment in the preceding year and whose quotas had consequently been reduced. In reaching this decision we recognised that these countries might have encountered special difficulties in implementing the sugar protocol for the first time, and the Community made it clear that the decision should not be seen as a precedent for future years. The Council agreed to consider requests from Zambia and Liberia to accede to the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention.

It was agreed to refer for consideration by officials an ACP proposal for the establishment of a joint ACP/EEC centre for agricultural co-operation. I have arranged for a copy of the Press communique made after the meeting to be placed in the Library, and I shall circulate further details in the Official Report.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply to this most important international conference, which, I think she will agree, is more important to long-term world relations than perhaps certain appointments or non-appointments. Will she tell the House whether the future of sugar imports into the EEC and Britain is a long-term assurance, whether there is a one-way ratchet mechanism which is now operating for just one year, and whether the renegotiation of sugar in 1980–81 could threaten the future of the cane sugar industry in this country?

As my hon. Friend will recognise, before and, indeed, during the renegotiations on our entry to the Market and on the first sugar arrangements that were made, these matters are in one respect matters for the discussion within the context of the Lomé Convention and in another respect matters for discussions within the Agricultural Council of the EEC. It is true to say that nothing that was decided in Fiji bears very strongly on the discussions still to take place in the Agricultural Council.

Is it or is it not the policy of the Government to press for the continued import of cane sugar in substantial quantities from these Third World countries?

The meeting in Fiji was concerned with the operation of the agreements that have already been reached. Quite honestly, it would be better if that question were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of some progress at Fiji there also seems to have been disappointment by the ACP countries that they have not had real success in improving the importing of products like bananas, beef and rum, which would considerably assist in their prosperity?

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that in Fiji we agreed to refer the question of bananas and rum for further study and we shall get a further report on that. But I emphasise that the results of the Fiji meeting were recognised in the communiqué by the ACP countries as being a considerable success. It is true that at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted for almost a week, there were doubts whether it would be successful but at the end of the week it was agreed that it was successful. Certain questions were referred for further study. Those are the ones to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Was there any discussion about the operation of the European Development Fund, and did the developing countries express satisfaction or dissatisfaction about its operation so far?

There was a very lengthy discussion in the working party that I chaired. That helped a great deal, because there were a number of questions from the ACP countries about the way in which the EDF was operating. The discussion that took place helped clear the air a great deal and was generally helpful.

With regard to continuing imports of cane sugar from Commonwealth developing countries, do the present Government accept the undertaking given by the previous Government, which took us into the Common Market, about bankable assurances?

Our position with regard to the need to safeguard the interests of the cane sugar producing countries in the Commonwealth stands exactly as it was. The question that now arises concerns the detailed negotiations in the Agricultural Council and how that has to be implemented.

Since there are jobs involved on Merseyside, in Scotland and elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the position on the import of sugar has not worsened and that the Government are doing their best to ensure that we get further imports of cane sugar to look after the jobs of the workers concerned?

There is no doubt about that at all. Our objectives are absolutely clear. All I am trying to explain to the House is that on this question, as is so often the case within the European Community, there is more than one forum of discussion. I am trying to explain that the forum of discussion with which my hon. Friend is now concerned lies with the Agricultural Council during the course of its discussions in the near future. There is no doubt at all about our concern to protect the interests of the cane producing countries of the Commonwealth, which equally match the needs of workers in the cane processing industry in Britain.

The further details are as follows:

The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include vanille, cloves, pyrethrum, gum arabic, ylang ylang, wool and mohair. The concession under the scheme, which grants eligibility to exports to all destinations, rather than solely the Community, was extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho. The Community also pledged that where exceptional events may distort the trade figures that are used to calculate the financial transfer the Community will seek a solution through a favourable interpretation of the existing provisions of the scheme.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to tomatoes and melons from the ACP States. Joint talks with the ACP countries are to be held on the questions of rum and bananas. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs. Community aid for trade promotion is to be expanded to include improvements in the training of personnel and in the marketing of ACP products. Temporary derogations from the Rules of Origin have been granted to Kenya and Malawi for one year to enable them to use third country fish-hooks in the manufacture of artificial fishing flies to be exported to the Community. These derogations are intended to give these countries time to establish Community sources of supply. A joint working party is to be established to identify and assess the effects on ACP exports of the generalised preferences granted by the Community to the developing world as a whole.