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Fuel Supplies

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received from the National Farmers Union about the energy crisis.

I received a number of approaches during July and August from the National Farmers Union and its branches stressing the importance of ensuring that adequate fuel supplies were available for harvesting.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but will he confirm that there were hiccups, particularly in my part of the country, during harvest time? Will there be adequate consultation between his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the energy crisis that we experienced earlier this year should be repeated?

I confirm to my hon. Friend that at that time there was the closest co-operation between the Department of Energy and the Ministry of Agriculture. I also confirm that, although there may have been a number of local shortages, the situation was kept carefully under control and there were no serious shortages during the harvest.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the grave concern in rural Wales and in other parts of Britain that half of the petrol stations in the rural areas would close if the oil companies' rationalisation programme were implemented. What plan has the Minister to make sure that petrol filling stations will not close?

This matter has caused my Department considerable concern. We have had meetings with the companies about it. My Department has received assurances from the oil companies that, for the time being, they will continue to supply existing outlets which wish them to do so while they look for alternative sources of supply. This should help to safeguard the supply position in rural areas. The two leading companies concerned have also given my Department an assurance that, if local stations continue to find difficulty in obtaining supplies, where there is no alternative filling station within a reasonable distance they will enter into further talks with the stations concerned to try to overcome the problem.

Is the Minister aware of the difficulties experienced by farmers in the East Midlands area in obtaining agricultural fuel? Is he satisfied with his Department's arrangements to assist them? Does he propose any immediate changes?

No immediate changes are proposed. The arrangements made by the Department of Energy during the harvest proved satisfactory. The Government are continuing to have consultations with the companies on the whole question of the supply situation. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the situation, so far as we can assess it in the meantime, is satisfactory.