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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 if he will make a statement regarding the supply of fuels for the coming winter.

Given average weather and no external interruptions in production or supply I do not foresee any general difficulty in meeting our fuel requirements this winter. However, the need for exercising the maximum restraint in our energy consumption remains as important as ever.

Does the Minister realise that that answer will be looked on by the public as somewhat complacent, in that we are once again in the hands of the weather? The answer implied that Britain's energy requirements will be on a knife edge again in the forthcoming winter. Has his right hon. Friend done what the Secretary of State for Industry has done—written to those chairmen of nationalised industries for whom he has a responsibility on the subject of wage restraint? If not, how does the hon. Gentleman expect to overcome some of the problems that could happen in the coming winter, given the nature of our close balance of energy requirements?

Happy though I am to think that everything happy happened on 3 May, total control of the weather was not one of those things. However, the weather, as happened under the previous Administration, has an impact on fuel supplies. My Department, in common with other Departments, has excellent relations with the nationalised industries.

Is my hon. Friend aware that for many people living in rural areas the supply of petrol for their cars is threatened by the aim of some of the major oil companies to close rural petrol stations? Is he aware that some of us think that the oil companies are abusing their powerful position by doing this? Will he tell them that if they want the Government's co-operation it would be helpful if they would at least understand this view, which many of us express on behalf of our constituents?

Although one can appreciate people's concern, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the specific assurances that have been received from the oil companies on this important issue.

Can the Minister assure us that although supplies might be adequate now they will not suddenly dry up in the first week of December before the OPEC meeting so that those who are sitting on the stocks can make a killing, as they did last June? If they do that again, what action will he take?

It does not help people's concerns and worries about supplies of fuel this winter when, as in any winter, the weather cannot be guaranteed in advance, to encourage fear on the subject. Fuel supplies are adequate to meet the conditions which one could normally expect this winter.