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Commons Chamber

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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House Of Commons

Monday 23 November 1981

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Energy

Fuel Costs

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his response to the lastest report from the National Economic Development Council energy task force on comparative costs for fuel in industry in France, West Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he proposes to take action on energy costs in manufacturing industry in the light of the findings of the National Economic Development Council task force.

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to receive the updated National Economic Development Council report on energy prices.

The report shows clearly the substantial improvement in the relative position of United Kingdom energy users since the previous report. I shall keep the position of bulk users of electricity under close review, but the heart of the problem remains the costs faced by the supply industry.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is part of the duties of the Secretary of State to ensure that British industry receives competitively priced fuel supplies? To that end, to assist bulk users of electricity, will he consider authorising consultants or auditors to examine the pricing structure of the CEGB?

My hon. Friend is right to remind me that I have many responsibilities. I am not, however, responsible for the exchange rate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]. Nor am I responsible for the fact that the French long ago decided to go for nuclear power in a substantial way, resulting in lower electricity generation costs than in this country. Nevertheless, I accept that there is a genuine problem, and my hon. Friend has put his finger on it. I am expecting shortly the review of the bulk supply tariff commissioned by my predecessor. I do not wish to raise premature hopes, but we must see whether that offers any change in the tariff to the advantage of bulk electricity consumers. In any event, I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's final suggestion.

Order. With every respect, may I encourage everyone to be a little briefer?

Is the Secretary of State aware that his reply is utterly abysmal? Does he appreciate that the West Germans give massive subsidies to their coal industry? Does he realise that current electricity prices in this country are threatening the very existence of electric arc furnace steel making? Will he take a more positive and intelligent attitude to this serious problem that is damaging British industry?

As I said earlier, the position—although for electric arc steel companies it is difficult in some respects—is considerably better right across the board than it was when the first task force report was made

With regard to European comparisons—I shall bear in mind your injunction, Mr. Speaker—the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the British Government took an initiative on energy pricing within the framework of the European Community and we are very close to reaching agreement on the draft guidelines.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as 80 per cent. of our electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations, the most effective way to help British industry and jobs is for the coal miners to accept realistically moderate pay increases?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that although things may be better, as he puts it, bulk users in British industry are still penalised by the Government's energy policy? Does his answer mean that he intends to leave it to so-called free market forces and to continue to ignore the subsidies given in other European countries?

It is not simply a matter of subsides. In a number of countries, particularly France, hydroelectric power and especially nuclear power result in lower electricity costs, and advantage is bound to derive from that. In Germany there are certain long-standing contracts that will gradually come to an end, and the new contracts will not be made on the same terms. Nevertheless, there is a problem there. That is why we pressed so hard within the European Community for guidelines concerning the phasing out of State subsidies through transparency, which is a dreadful jargon word, but it is important to know exactly what is happening in other countries.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the British paper industry, for example, is paying at least 20 per cent. more for its electricity than are its French and German competitors? Does he expect to eliminate that differential? If so, how and when?

As I said earlier—I respect my hon. Friend's persistence on the issue—the next step is to see what emerges from the bulk supply tariff review. There is a possibility that there wil be some mitigation as a result of that, although it would be wrong to hold out the hope that it will eliminate or substantially eliminate the disparity with certain European countries. It is not true that there is a disparity with all European countries.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that several steelworks in South Yorkshire are already facing severe competition from the Italian industry? How on earth does he expect them to survive now that the Italian Government have decided to subsidise electric arc steel production to the extent of over £30 million a year?

I realise that there are real problems for the companies concerned, but I am sure that not even the hon. Gentleman would suggest that it would be sensible policy for Her Majesty's Government to look at each country, see whether a subsidy is given and match that in every respect, whatever the cost to the rest of the economy and industry.

Coal Industry

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when last he discussed the investment in the coal industry with the chairman of the National Coal Board; and if he will make a statement.

I meet the chairman frequently to discuss this and other aspects of the board's business.

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the NCB and the NUM are happy about future investment in the coal industry? When he next meets the chairman of the NCB will he bear in mind that the fluidised bed system seems to be a winner if it is further developed? Will he also take into account the combined heat and power stations that are being erected where power stations are closing down?

While obeying your injunction, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will not mind my saying that we shall miss the hon. Gentleman's contributions to coal industry debates after the next election. In terms of investment, £805 million is not an insignificant sum. I shall open a new fluidised bed development at Amey Roadstone in the Shrewsbury area on Wednesday. That is a key area of development for the coal industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in order to generate more home-grown investment in the industry, sales must improve? Is he satisfied with the scheme that was announced to encourage conversion from oil to coal? Will he now seek urgent talks with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to see whether the scheme can be extended to include conversion from gas to coal?

Detailed matters concerning the scheme are subject to the wishes of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. To that extent, I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to it. All of us who wish to see a longer term increase in coal burn would like further developments in that scheme, if they are viable.

Is the Minister aware that the trailers on investment that are now beginning to appear regarding the privatisation of the coal industry are having an unsettling effect on the management and the miners? Will he undertake to publish the coal Bill as quickly as possible so that the people in the industry will know what is happening?

When I study the excellent productivity pattern and the first-class morale in the industry, I find it difficult to recognise the hon. Gentleman's statement. However, the sooner that the new coal Bill is published, the more I shall be delighted, although the matter is not in my hands.

British Gas Corporation

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what response he has had to his proposals to reduce the public enterprise role of the British Gas Corporation.

The proposals will result in genuine competition in the supply of gas, particularly to industry, and have been warmly welcomed by the Chemical Industries Association and others.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the abandonment of the gas-gathering pipeline will mean the loss of thousands of job opportunities? Does he realise that the withdrawal of the corporation's buying rights will, in effect, give a licence to multinational companies to put the gas up for auction to the highest bidder, which will mean further price increases for both industrial and domestic consumers? Instead of carpeting Sir Denis Rooke for publicly criticising such daft proposals, should not the Secretary of State have been carpeted for displaying such blind political prejudice?

Blind political prejudice is what we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman, who is something of an expert in that area, as the House knows. The opening up of the the industry to competition will undoubtedly lead to an expansion of the industry and an expansion of job opportunities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gas-gathering pipeline that is predicted to come ashore at St. Fergus in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) in April next year from the Brent and Ninian fields? What effect will that have on gas supplies to this country?

My hon. Friend will, of course, be aware that there is a question later on the Order Paper on the gas-gathering pipeline, which I am sure is likely to be reached. It would be more sensible to discuss the matter when we reach that question.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, for historical reasons, Scottish industry gets only half the amount of industrial gas that is available to industry in other parts of the United Kingdom? In his proposals for the privatisation of the gas industry, what protection will he give to ensure that the supply of industrial gas is increased in Scotland?

I should think that it is evident that the opening up of this business to competition will give a better opportunity to Scotland than if it were in the hands of a single statutory monopoly.

With regard to the sale of Wytch Farm, which will mean a reduction in the public enterprise role of the BGC, what criteria are to be laid down for valuation, given, as I was told last week, the vast reserves in that area and a recently discovered gusher? Are British interests to be protected against French purchasers who, I understand, are extremely interested in Wytch Farm, given the nearness of the Channel quadrant?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the need to protect British interests and of the need to ensure that a fair price is secured for the sale of the 50 per cent. interest in the Wytch Farm oilfield. Any new factors, such as those that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, will be fully taken into account in the price that is eventually paid.

Electricity Generation (Costs)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the estimates of the cost of nuclear power station decommissioning used as part of the relative cost comparison between nuclear, coal, oil, and hydroelectric power generation; and which form of nuclear waste disposal has been assumed to operate in calculating decommissioning costs.

I consider that the general provision that the CEGB makes in its accounts for decommissioning nuclear power stations in operation at present are an acceptable basis for comparisons of generating costs. The precise method of decommissioning has not yet been decided. The provision covers the main options available.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the calculations for the cost of nuclear waste disposal do not taken into account any expenditure beyond the year 2000? When will the Minister come to the House and make a clear statement about the total cost of decommissioning and waste disposal, especially when we know that one harvest canister alone will cost £103 million, and that the total cost of storing nuclear waste in tanks up to the year 2000 will be £377 million?

Figures are thrown out in the House that have no basis in fact. The facts relating to the fuel cycle costs and the decommissioning costs associated with nuclear power are both adequately provided for within the CEGB estimates on the basis of known knowledge of expected costs.

Does my hon. Friend consider that it would be helpful to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) if he spoke to Mr. Gavin Laird?

I can suggest many other honourable leaders of trade unions who equally could inform the hon. Gentleman on the, subject.

Since the cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations has always been a controversial matter, and since the Select Committee on Energy has published a report, does the Minister agree that it is time that the House had an opportunity to debate it?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's last point, that is not a matter for me, but I shall draw it to the attention of the relevant parts of the House. When the Select Committee looked at decommissioning it did not question that aspect of the CEGB's accounts, as opposed to the fuel cycle costs. We are, after all, talking about a factor in decommissioning that is only 2 per cent. of the generating costs of a new nuclear power station.

Civil Engineering (Pre-Contract Delays)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has considered the recent recommendations on pre-contract delays in civil engineering projects concerning the energy industries in the report of the Construction Industry Research and Information Association; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has recently received a copy of the report and will be consulting my right hon. Friend on those parts relating to the energy industries.

Is the Minister aware that the civil engineers' report makes it quite clear that both taxpayers and customers of the energy industries suffer from the erratic "stop-go" in capital projects in those industries? Is he aware that specialist skills in teams that it has taken a long time to build up and which have expensive equipment are left stranded for months and that eventually the cost to the taxpayer is bound to be substantially greater than it need be?

The hon. Gentleman makes a legitimate point. I am sure that he will agree that the report goes into considerable depth and that it will take some time to consider it. However, in due course the aspects relating to energy will be considered by my Department.

When my hon. Friend is looking at the report will he ask his advisers to show him the report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, prepared for the Federation of Civil Engineers, which shows that of all public sector investment, that in civil engineering is likely to be the most productive?

I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that we shall look at any report that may be helpful when we are making our examination.

Alternative Energy Sources

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he intends to increase Government funds available for research into alternative forms of energy, including wind, tidal and solar energy.

There are no plans at present for any substantial change, having regard to the fact that expenditure on research and development into renewable energy sources will be about £15·4 million in the current year, as compared to £3·7 million in 1978–79.

Will the Minister also give the House the cost of building a single PWR power station, and reflect on the comparison between the two figures and say why he believes that the Government have got the balance of expenditure correct?

The hon. Gentleman, in his usual enthusiasm to denigrate the nuclear industry, is making false comparisons. The cost of a nuclear power station is the cost of implementing previous research. His original question deals only with research. If some of those projects were put into production the cost would, in many cases, exceed the cost of a nuclear power station.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in considering alternative energy sources, the biggest immediately identifiable need is not good will towards alternative strategies, but the need for a common fund of knowledge? Much development work is taking place, but could the Department act as a central point to bring together all the experts and the many people who are doing a lot of work in this area?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that much of that goes on already. Our energy technology support unit at Harwell does a great deal, both in collecting together expertise and results and in disseminating that. I shall bear in mind any suggestions that my hon. Friend may make about how the situation can be improved.

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his answer? Any Government who did not consider benign sources of energy would be foolish, but will the hon. Gentleman explain how expenditure is co-ordinated in his Department, and will he tell us whether there are any plans for the Department to examine co-ordination of expenditure?

A statement on the Department's co-ordination of expenditure on energy matters must await another occasion. We work on the basis that any reasonable project that should go ahead in the national interest is being funded. The hon. Gentleman will have noted the considerable increase in real terms in money devoted to research and development this year, compared with the equivalent sum when he had responsibility for these matters.

Is my hon. Friend aware that £15·4 million for research and development in the current year is probably about right? Can he assure us that if such sources, especially wind, reach the stage of commercial development the necessary money will be forthcoming?

My Department, with the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board, is paying £5·6 million towards the development of a 3MW aero-generator in the Orkneys. Once that is ready to come on stream in 1985, we shall consider any further proposals that may be made.

As the original question refers to tidal energy, will the hon. Gentleman say when the Government will be commenting on the report of the Severn barrage committee?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the matter and his contribution to the committee. My Department is awaiting public response to both part 1 and, now, part 2 of the report. I hope to be able to make a statement in the new year on the Department's view on further progress.

British Gas Corporation

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when last he met the chairman of the British Gas Corporation to discuss the abolition of the corporation's monopoly of supply of gas to industrial users.

I repeat my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on the decision to abolish the monopoly supply to industrial consumers, but I urge him to go slightly further and to consider allowing corporations other than the BGC to provide gas to domestic consumers, especially to those who are not able to get gas from the BGC at present.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and there is a case to be made for saying that anyone without a statutory right of supply from the BGC should be a candidate for supply by the private sector.

As the effect of the campaign waged by the oil companies, egged on by the Secretary of State, has been to force the British Gas Corporation to charge higher prices for gas, will not the real loser be the consumer, who will lose in all senses? Did Sir Denis Rooke not warn the Secretary of State about the possibility of gas price increases on top of those that the right hon. Gentleman has imposed on British Gas by insisting on a 10 per cent. real increase, over and above the rate of inflation?

All sorts of warnings are issued from various quarters at various times. Ministers have to get used to that and assess what is likely to happen. There is no reason why gas prices should rise as a result of competition. The general consequence of competition is to make prices lower than they otherwise would be. Indeed, the welcome that the industry has given to the proposals would not have been given if industry had thought that they would result in dearer gas.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is necessary to require any private pipeline owner to supply gas to anybody living or operating a business within a short distance of that pipeline if supplies are to be extended to either industrial or private users?

Gas-Gathering Systems

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy is he will make a statement on his policy on initiatives by North Sea operators on gas-gathering systems.

I expect the private sector to co-operate on schemes to bring gas and natural gas liquids ashore in an efficient and timely way. I am pleased to be able to tell the House of the first example of this, namely, the northern leg pipeline, which is planned to collect gas from the Magnus, Murchison and Thistle oilfields. The operators have agreed with Shell and Esso that this gas should be delivered through the Far North Liquids and Associated Gas Systems pipeline to St. Fergus starting in 1983. I am informed that full agreements covering construction, transmission and sale are expected to be signed in a matter of weeks.

In answer to a previous question the Secretary of State said that lots of jobs would be available as a result of the gas-gathering system now envisaged.

Will the Minister tell us how many jobs will be available following the abandonment of the scheme envisaged in paper 44, in which all the gas was then envisaged as coming ashore, and not merely the gas to which he has referred, which is due to ullage in the FLAGS system? Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that his approach will be to optimise the advantage to the United Kingdom economy, because that is what we expected from the gas-gathering system?

I am a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman is being so churlish. He should have been sufficiently gracious to welcome the scheme. Of course it will result in the provision of jobs. It relates to only three fields, but there are many others from which gas will be collected and the companies will come forward in due course, just as the consortium has done.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the news is excellent for the British economy, the consumer and taxpayer and that it should be welcomed by all who have the country's interests at heart? Does he agree that the British Gas Corporation's monopoly of the purchase and distribution of gas was an obstacle to the plans for the gas-gathering pipeline system, and that now that the monopolies are to be broken there should be further good plans for other gas-gathering and distribution systems?

I should be less than fair if I did not remind my hon. Friend that there were a number of reasons for the failure of the gas-gathering pipeline. However, it is certainly true that the British Gas Corporation's monopoly was one of them. My hon. Friend is correct to say that considerable opportunities are now presented for the private sector.

Does the Minister agree that FLAGS would not exist but for the previous arrangement? I am pleased that the Government have managed to welcome one system for the gathering of gas, but does not that system represent about one-tenth of the patchwork quilt that we must weave together to achieve the scale of gas gathering that a common carrier line would have provided?

I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's disappointment at this success. I remind him that the proposal that I have announced today will reclaim about 100 million cubic ft. of gas per day from the three fields. That is merely the start and will be achieved by 1983. The best that we could have hoped for under the original proposal was 1984 or 1985.

The Minister is totally unconvincing. Everybody who has followed the progress knows that the Minister was a passionate supporter of an integrated pipeline. His failure to persuade the Prime Minister on that score led to this partial solution. When will he be able to come to the Dispatch Box and make a specific announcement about the rest of the pipeline, which he said was essential and vital to the national interest?

I hope to come to the Dispatch Box before long and from time to time. I, or one of my colleagues, will make announcements as and when the time comes. Hon. Members must realise that time is involved. One cannot construct and plan a pipeline overnight. This is a marvellous example of how minds have been concentrated to achieve the present stage.

Central Electricity Generating Board

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will announce his appointments to the Central Electricity Generating Board in view of the fact that five of the present full-time members will cease to hold office early in 1982 unless reappointed.

I am considering these appointments and will announce my decisions as soon as possible.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the reported rough handling of the chairman of the British Gas Corporation by the Secretary of State, there is a fear in the electricity supply industry that when new appointments are made to the Central Electricity Generating Board political tests will be applied, rather than merit and techical ability being considered?

I do not recognise myself in the hon. Gentleman's description. The House will know that I am incapable of rough-handling anybody. Of course no political appointments will he made. We shall seek the best men for the jobs in every case, from wherever they might arise.

European Community (Energy Policy)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he intends to take any initiatives towards the development of a European Economic Community energy policy.

Under our Presidency the October Energy Council made very good progress towards further elaboration of Community energy policy, primarily in terms of a serious accountable commitment by all member States to common objectives.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the progress that is being made towards the Community commitment to the economic pricing of energy?

Yes. The Energy Council reached substantial agreement on draft conclusions about the implementation of pricing principles and moves towards price transparency. It set out the further work needed to improve both systems. We hope that the draft conclusions will be endorsed formally by the Council in the near future.

Will the Minister talk seriously about an initiative for developing an EEC energy policy? Does he agree that responses from the Dispatch Box this afternoon prove that we are moving further and further away from a co-ordinated energy policy in the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman makes an assertion without substantiation. The evidence that emerged from the October Energy Council and from previous Energy Councils is different from that submitted by the hon. Gentleman.

Is not an ideal candidate for EEC energy programme co-operation research into alternative forms of energy? I welcome the fourfold increase in Government funds for such research. Has that been done in concert with other EEC partners?

Each EEC country has its own programme. There is also a Community programme. Additional funds for that Community programme were discussed at the October Energy Council.

Since the Government propose to give away our oil in their privatisation programme, have the Government thought through the EEC relationship? Does it mean that the door is open for the Common Market to grab our oil as well?

That is not an observation worthy of the hon. Gentleman. To say that we are giving away our oil is a travesty of the truth. The hon. Gentleman should be able to do better than that.

Oil Exploration

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he has had with oil companies about surveying and possible exploration of the West Coast of Scotland, and in particular the Firth of Clyde.

We have had preliminary discussions with interested companies about the possibility of awarding petroleum licences for specific areas in the Firth of Clyde.

Is the Minister aware of the growing feeling that the oil companies are deliberately keeping quiet about the huge potential off the West Coast, as they did earlier about the huge reserves in the North Sea, to minimise the pressure to increase oil taxes? What power does the Minister have to undertake an independent study to ascertain the potential of reserves? Will he undertake such a study?

Such a study is unnecessary. Considerable information is already available to the Department. After consultation with various companies that have taken seismic soundings there, the Government realise that there is potential. The same enthusiasm for the West Coast has not been expressed so far because of the finds in the east. However there was enthusiasm for blocks offered off the West Coast in the seventh round.

We are talking about an essential part of the whole exploration programme. How is the exploration programme progressing? We were told in 1979 by the Minister's predecessor that there would be a surge of exploration in 1980. How many exploration wells were sunk in 1980? Did the surge turn out to be another period of stagnation?

The hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. The number of exploration wells started in the past year exceeded the number started in 1980.

If the hon. Gentleman wants the exact figures I invite him to table a question, which I shall answer.

Nuclear Power Generation

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what support he is giving to the development of power generation by nuclear fusion.

The United Kingdom is participating fully in the European fusion programme, the total budget for which is running at £130 million in the current year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. As hydrogen is the most abundant of all chemical elements, and as two of the heavier hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, produce more energy per pound of material than any other reaction known in the universe, will my hon. Friend ensure that the Treasury at no point cuts the British fusion programme, because it is vital for our great-grandchildren's energy needs?

I would not begin to trespass upon my hon. Friend's technical knowledge or to suggest that I could prevent the Treasury from permanently making changes in programmes. However, I agree that the programme, if successful, could be a significant step towards the ultimate exploitation of the enormous potential of fusion.

There are reports that the Government are about to contract out of nuclear fusion technology. Would it not be wise for the Government to make a statement clarifying the Government's attitude to nuclear fusion, as we are talking about the future—a fact which he and his hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) underlined?

I do not see that I could express much more clearly the fact that the Government are participating fully in the programme. We are fully committed as a host to the programme and expect to spend around £30 million this year on the programme.

Will my hon. Friend accept that this nation has been one of the world leaders in terms of engineering and invention? Will he accept that the 10-year programme for nuclear power stations was also cut completely following the discovery of North Sea gas? Will he give an assurance that we shall not fall behind, as occurred with discoveries such as the hovercraft, but that we shall proceed with this fusion technique and become one of the world leaders, to the advantage of our children and our grandchildren?

Without seeking to correct my hon. Friend, I would only say that it was the impertinence of the Opposition when in office that had such a detrimental impact on our excellent long-term nuclear programme.

Gas Supplies (Brent Field)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what penalties he has enforced on Shell and Esso for late delivery of gas from the Brent field; and in what respects he expects the treatment of companies flaring gas to differ in the future.

Our policy will be to continue to reduce gas flaring where economically and technically feasible alternative outlets exist. Since the Government came to office in 1979, gas flaring has been reduced almost by half. Penalties for late delivery' of Brent gas are a commercial matter between the buyers and sellers.

Can the Minister really expect oil companies to take seriously all his huffing and puffing about not being allowed to flare gas when the Government have treated Shell and Esso in this way? How much gas will be lost before the timetable of the gas-gathering pipeline is caught up with, not in terms of the small private schemes that are coming forward now, but in terms of the totality that would have been brought ashore had the landing of gas been properly planned?

Flaring can never be completely eliminated, for safety and operational reasons. The Brent flare has been reduced by nearly two-thirds since mid-1979 and is now at a level that allows both a reasonable level of oil production to be maintained and the commissioning of further gas handling equipment to meet the companies' gas sales obligations. It might also interest the hon. Gentleman to know that gas flaring in the North Sea reached a peak in the second quarter of 1979, the last quarter for which the Labour Government had responsibility.

Is not the announcement that my hon. Friend made earlier in connection with the additional use of the Shell-Esso pipeline particularly welcome as it means that the gas concerned will be landed two years earlier than would have been the case with the gas-gathering pipeline?. Is it not also the case that the gas amounts to 40 per cent. of all the gas that we were assured would be going through the gas-gathering pipeline?

My hon. Friend is correct. This will bring gas ashore earlier than would have been the case.

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that FLAGS came into being despite his allegation against British Gas of monopsonistic power? What is the justification for abandoning the monopsonistic powers of British Gas?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that FLAGS has been constructed and will come into operation by means of the private sector.

British Gas Corporation

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when next he proposes to meet the chairman of the British Gas Corporation to discuss the privatisation programme for the corporation.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when next he expects to meet the chairman of the British Gas Corporation 10 discuss privatisation proposals for the corporation.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have discussed the Government's privatisation plans with Sir Denis Rooke on several occasions and expect to meet him again in the near future.

How does my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend propose securing for independent gas producers access to British Gas pipelines so that they can deliver their supplies to British consumers? How does he propose preventing Sir Denis Rooke, for whose business ability I have considerable admiration, from delaying implementation of the privatisation programme until after the next general election?

The common carrier provisions must apply to the private as to well as the public sector. I cannot imagine that a public servant of the quality of Sir Denis Rooke would seek to delay implementation of the Government's will once the legislation is on the statute book.

As a result of these discussions, is the Secretary of State going to sack Sir Denis Rooke?

Discussions are continuing, but I am sure that I can speak for the Secretary of State and say "No".

Following the Government's decision to delay the sale of gas showrooms, may I ask whether they will now abandon the scheme in view of the concern that exists among consumers?

The Government have made clear their view on the nature of, and need to implement, proper safety provisions. The problem of monopoly uncovered by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report remains and must be tackled.

Coal

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the anticipated coal reserves of the United Kingdom; and what is the anticipated rate of exploitation of new sources of indigenous coal.

The National Coal Board estimates that about 45 billion tonnes of coal will ultimately be recoverable. The rate at which it will be necessary to exploit new sources of indigenous coal will depend upon such factors as future market demands and the anticipated output from existing mines.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Do the known reserves include the coal that has recently been discovered in South Warwickshire? How is it intended that we should recover the reserves? Shall we use existing pitheads, or is it proposed to sink new ones?

The latter part of the question relates to the detailed management of the National Coal Board. However, as regards the 45 billion tonnes, that covers all coal that the NCB thinks is ultimately recoverable, as opposed to the 7 billion tonnes which the Institute of Geological Services considers accessible from existing and planned new mines.

As regards coal reserves, the hon. Gentleman must be aware that there is a place called the Vale of Belvoir. Could he not do something to try to get that coalfield developed? It would be in the interests of the nation if we did that.

The hon. Member knows, as that question has consistently been asked, that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will comment on it when he has completed the inquiry.

Gas Flaring

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what new plans he has to avoid excessive flaring of gas in the United Kingdom oilfields of the North Sea.

I shall continue to pursue the same approach to flaring for new and existing oilfield developments that has allowed the Government progressively to reduce the level by around half since taking office.

Just as the demand for oil in the first and second quarters of 1979 was due to the unsettling effect of the Iranian situation, whereby the Government were willing to flare gas in order to get a higher production of oil, could not the situation arise, in the absence of a common carrier gas-gathering pipeline, whereby we may have or, to reduce the oil flow to avoid excessive flaring of gas, alternatively, demand a higher production of oil at the cost of flaring gas quite outrageously?

Coming from a right hon. Member, who was the Minister who presided over the period when we had the highest amount of flaring since gas was taken from beneath the North Sea, that is rich. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he is mischief-making.

In view of the very high cost of electricity to British consumers, will the hon. Gentleman seriously examine the possibilities of developing hydroelectric power in the Highlands of Scotland and issue a report to the House?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that hydroelectric power is close to my heart and that the Highlands of Scotland are even closer. However, apart from one possibility which has been examined, and is being re-examined, by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, I do not think that the remainder of those possibilities, which have previously been suggested, are economically viable, even in today's monetary situation.

European Community (Energy Imports)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the proposals by the French Government for a common policy on energy imports into the European Economic Community.

It has for long been an objective of the Community to reduce its dependence on energy imports, especially oil, but I am not aware of any specific new proposals relating to energy imports.

Would it not be in the interests of the United Kingdom to take up the suggestion repeatedly put forward by the French Government for a tax on imported sources of energy from outside the Community, since we do not import any energy from outside the Community and since the whole Community has a manifest interest in reducing reliance on imported sources of energy?

My hon. Friend will know that the Community has taken steps to reduce its dependence on oil, whether imported or domestically produced. It would be wrong for me to say that we believe at this stage that there would be any advantage in the proposal that he makes.

Oil And Gas Industries

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a further statement on the privatisation of the nationalised oil and gas interests.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received on his proposals for the privatisation of the British National Oil Corporation and the oil-producing sector of British Gas.

Our proposals on the BNOC and the BGC will be among the major achievements of this Parliament. We expect them to be widely welcomed by all who care for the successful development of our oil and gas industries and for the interests of the consumer, the taxpayer and the industry.

In view of misleading publicity, will my hon. Friend confirm that the introduction of private capital into a small proportion of North Sea oil and gas owned by the nationalised industries will in no way inhibit the Government's ability to control or tax the oil industry?

I confirm absolutely what my hon. Friend said. That would never have been our intention, and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to clarify the position.

How can the Minister of State talk about the great achievement of selling off the oil and gas interests of the British people when he knows that, in fact, it is a desperate attempt by a desperate Government to sell the nation's seed corn for the purpose of making a short-term capital gain for the Treasury?

The hon. Member is mistaken. The introduction of private capital into the British National Oil Corporation will allow the corporation to develop as a privately controlled oil company. The Government will still retain an interest, but it will be in the downstream sector, the trading arm, so that our security of supply will be maintained.

Alternative Energy Sources

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on Government research programmes into alternative sources of energy.

I shall keep the House informed of developments in my Department's activities in this area. My Department is preparing a report on research and development, including work on new and renewable forms of energy, which will be published as soon as is practicable.

While I appreciate that exchanges have taken place on this matter on an earlier question, may I ask my hon. Friend confirm that, no matter how important is research into alternative sources of energy, such sources can fill only marginally the gap between the expected total supply and demand? Will he bear that in mind in considering also the importance of research into conventional energy forms?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to develop the renewable sources of energy that are available to us, but it is equally important that we are not deluded into thinking that that will in any way replace the need for new power stations, whether coal-fired or atomic.

House Of Commons

Opposition Time

34.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he has any proposals for the reapportionment of Opposition time in the conduct of business of the House.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Francis Pym)

The apportionment of time allocated to the Opposition is primarily a matter for them and for the House as a whole. The Select Committee on Supply (Procedure) recently proposed in its first report that the present system of Supply days available to the Opposition should be replaced by the introduction of a number of Opposition days and Estimates days. I hope there will soon be an opportunity for the House to debate these recommendations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but does he not feel that, in the light of the disintegration of the Labour Party and the realignment of the Socialist parties, he should at least keep an eye on the situation?

I am sure that the House should keep an eye on it, and I am sure that the House will. It is important that the Opposition should have their due amount of time in the House. This is a basic part of our procedure. I think that it was the general view of the House that there should be a re-examination. This has now taken place. I hope that there will soon be an opportunity for a debate.

May I remind the Lord President that the only party that has actually lost hon. Members as a result of a parliamentary election since the last general election is the Conservative Party? In the light of that it may be appropriate to consider whether there should be less Government time rather than less official Opposition time.

I do not think that we have done too badly. There are other opportunities, which may or may not be taken.

Scottish Grand Committee

35.

asked the Lord President of the Council what arrangements he has made for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet in Scotland.

The House approved a sessional order on 5 November whereby, on an experimental basis, the Scottish Grand Committee can be given leave to hold sittings in Edinburgh.

As there seems to be some delay in getting the old Royal high school ready, why does not the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet in the former Scottish Parliament building in Parliament Square, Edinburgh, even if this means temporarily evicting the present occupants, that well-known closed shop, the Faculty of Advocates?

I am sure that hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies each have a preferred place for this experiment. Discussions have taken place between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and his opposite number and also through the usual channels. I think that a conclusion broadly acceptable to the House has been achieved.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the broadcasting companies in Scotland are interested in the possibility of televising meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee——

I do not know why my hon. Friend should object. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider this as a possible trial run for further consideration by the House of the televising of the proceedings of the House as a whole?

Can the Leader of the House say whether it is proposed that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet at 10.30 am on Mondays? If so, does not this show extraordinary ignorance on the part of the Scottish Office of travel in Scotland? Either the Committee will be denied the invaluable advice of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and myself, or we shall have to spend Sunday in Edinburgh—a prospect that does not fill everyone with enthusiasm.

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman should be so reluctant to spend Sunday in Edinburgh. Arrangements have been made that are thought to be as acceptable as possible. It is possible that, due to difficulties of the kind that the right hon. Member mentions, the experiment will not continue. It is however, right for the House to try it for a year.

I think that I am right in saying that it will be ready early in the new year.

Lord President Of The Council

Government Policy (Publicity)

36.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he is satisfied with publicity given to Government policies.

37.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is satisfied with the effectiveness of Government publicity.

Would there not be much more improvement if the Government were headed by someone who would appear far more reasonable and far less obstinate? Would it not be useful for the success of Government publicity if the Government were not headed by someone so closely associated with the return of mass unemployment and misery?

That sounded rather like a prepared personal attack, with which I totally disagree. The Government are headed by someone whose clarity of opinion is clear to everyone who hears her.

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the astonishing degree of publicity given to the Social Democratic Party? As its policies are nothing but old wine in moderately old bottles, and ours, on the other hand, are invigorating new wine, would he care to consider whether some degree of change in presentation is needed?

The SDP does not have any policy at all, and certainly not an agreed policy. Each member seems to have a certain view about certain matters, but I do not think that its members have yet reached the point of having an agreed policy. It is surprising that more comment has not been forthcoming in the columns of the press about that. On the whole, it seems that, for one reason or another, the SDP is given an undue and, some would think, an excessive amount of coverage and interest, but I cannot control that.

Would the Lord President like to make some time available for the SDP in the House of Commons? We would be delighted to develop and deploy our policies, to the consternation of both the Government and the Labour Party.

We have just had a question about Opposition time. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Her Majesty's Opposition have made a day available later this week to the Liberal Party. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman talks nicely to his erstwhile party, it will make a day available to the SDP.

Paymaster General

Departmental Staff

38.

asked the Paymaster General how many staff are in post in his Department.

39.

40.

asked the Paymaster General how many staff he has in his Department.

At 1 November 1981 there were 918 staff in post in my Department at Crawley. In addition, there are two employed in my private office in London.

Since the right hon. Gentleman's own job is clearly, as chairman of the Conservative Party, to promote his party's cause, may we assume that his salary comes from his party and not from public funds?

I am sure that it will please the hon. Gentleman to know that, although I devote a considerable amount of time to Government work, I have declined to take a ministerial salary.

As higher rates of pension come into effect today, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the effects of the recent Civil Service strike, which caused delays in the payment of pensions and which so harmed the old and the sick, have now been cleared up and that the higher pensions will be paid promptly through his Department?

I am pleased to be able to say that the effects of the delay, which was caused by the strike of computer staff, and which caused unfortunate effects for pensioners, have now been overcome and pensions are being paid promptly.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not hit the ball straight back over my head, as he did with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). What steps is he taking to participate in the curtailment of staff, along with other members of Her Majesty's Government?

The staff of the Department has not increased over the last two years, although the number of pensions paid has increased by over 10 per cent. However, I accept my hon. Friend's point, and I am determined to look at the work of the Department to see whether it is possible to privatise part of it and to get the work done more efficiently.

The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on giving away his undoubted right to the interest on the Exchequer balances. For what associated public bodies is he ministerially responsible in his present capacity?

I am responsible for the work of my Department. I have one or two other honorary jobs, such as trusteeship of the Royal hospital, Chelsea. I am also a trustee of one or two small benevolent funds, the beneficiaries of which are former members of the Forces.

Member's Speeches (Upper Galleries)

Order. I want to make a brief statement but one that is not unimportant, further to the ruling that I gave on Tuesday last, that in future my eye is more likely to fall on those hon. Members who occupy places in the Chamber proper than on those who are using the Side Galleries. The House has authorised the making of a continuous tape recording of our proceedings for the purposes of sound broadcasting. The Side Galleries are not equipped with microphones, so no adequate recording can be made of speeches or interventions by hon. Members occupying those Galleries. I wish to make it clear, therefore, that until the House instructs me otherwise I do not propose to call hon. Members to speak from the Side Galleries, unless their reason for being there is that the Floor of the House and their normal side of the House is full.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to question you about the statement that you made a few moments ago. In view of what has transpired over a number of years since broadcasting commenced in the Chamber, will the power of editing be taken away from the present Editor and put in your hands, because it appears to me that the Editor has edited out a number of questions and answers on transport?

I have every confidence in and am deeply grateful to those who report our proceedings in the House. I shall, of course, look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Sinai Multinational Peacekeeping Force

Order. I shall take points of order as I normally do, after statements.

Some hon. Members have an unfair advantage over others, in that they get advance copies of the statements while the rest of us have to wait until the Minister makes the statement at the Dispatch Box. Is it in order for this privilege to be extended to members of the Social Democratic Party, who have flouted the will of their electorate?

I do not decide to whom copies of statements are given, but certain courtesies are observed in the House, as I well know.

3.35 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the request of the United States Government for a British contribution to the proposed multinational force and observers in Sinai. We and the Governments of France, Italy and the Netherlands, who received similar requests, have notified the United States, Egyptian and Israeli Governments of our agreement in the following terms:

"The Governments of France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, after consulting their partners in the Ten, have decided, subject to their constitutional procedures and to agreement on the practical and legal arrangements, to accede to the request of the Governments of Egypt, Israel and the United States to contribute to the multinational force and observers in Sinai. The four Governments state that their participation in the MFO is based on the understanding that:
  • (i) The force exists solely for the purpose of maintaining peace in Sinai following Israeli withdrawal. It has no other role.
  • (ii) The force is being established in its present form in the absence of a United Nations decision on an international force and its position will be reviewed should such a decision become possible.
  • (iii) Participation by the four Governments in the force will not be taken either as committing them to or excluding them from participation in such other international peacekeeping arrangements as have been or may be established in the region; and
  • (iv) Participation in the MFO by the four Governments is without prejudice to their well-known policies on other aspects of the problems of the area."
  • This decision is a symbol of our determination to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement following negotiations between the parties which would bring justice for all the peoples and security for all the States of the area. We welcomed the achievement of peace between Israel and Egypt as a first step towards that goal. Similarly, we welcome the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai as the first step towards the realisation of the call for withdrawal contained in Security Council resolution 242, which specifically declared inadmissible the acquisition of territory by war, and we believe that the international community has a duty to play its part, as necessary and with the agreement of the parties concerned, in peace arrangements in the Middle East. We are ready to participate also in such arrangements in the other territories currently occupied in the context of Israeli withdrawal. We regard our support for the arrangements associated with the implementation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty as quite distinct from and independent of the rest of the Camp David process.

    In addition, we wish to express our firm support for the Egyptian Government and people and our belief in the need for stability and continuity in Egypt. Our decision to participate in the MFO follows from the policy, as stated in the declaration issued at Venice in June 1980 and in subsequent statements. This policy, while insisting on guarantees for the security of the State of Israel, places equal emphasis on justice for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. It also holds that the PLO must be involved in the process leading to a comprehensive peace.

    We pledge ourselves to support the MFO. We also repeat that, together with our partners in the Ten, we will continue to work for the achievement of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East in all ways consistent with the principles to which we hold.

    The Ten, as a whole have made a statement in support of our decision to participate in the following terms:
    "The Ten consider that the decision of France, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom to participate in the multinational force in Sinai meets the wish frequently expressed by members of the Community to facilitate any progress in the direction of a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East on the basis of mutual acceptance of the right to existence and security of all the States in the area and the need for the Palestinian people to exercise fully its right to self-determination."

    I think that the House will feel that it is important that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel should be followed by the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Sinai. However, it is still unclear after the Lord Privy Seal's statement whether either the Arabs or the Israelis welcome participation in the force, whose purpose is to keep the peace thereafter.

    We have all followed with bewilderment the muddle of the past few weeks, during which the Foreign Secretary and certain British ambassadors in the Middle East have played a conspicuous role. The statement raises more questions than it answers, and I propose to ask some of the questions.

    First, is Britain planning to provide the force with troops as well as equipment? Are the other partners to the agreement also providing troops as well as equipment?

    Secondly, I think that medieval schoolmen must have had something to do with the drafting of the basis on which the force is being contributed. I have been trying to find my way through the clauses and subordinate clauses that the Lord Privy Seal has read. Do I understand that this contribution is not connected with the Camp David agreement and that the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai is seen by Her Majesty's Government and the other contributors to the force as implementing, in part, resolution 242 of the Security Council? Does their decision follow from the Venice declaration, rather than from anything else?

    If I am right in believing that that is so, will the Minister tell us whether the Israeli Government have accepted the statement as the basis on which we should contribute troops? Does the PLO also approve?

    Finally, I return to a question that I raised during the recent foreign affairs debate. The decision of the Western Powers is clearly an essential response to American requests, rather than to requests from Israel or the Arabs. Has the United States in return clarified its Middle East policy, which is currently in a state of extraordinary confusion? There would be a good deal of concern on both sides of the House if, in practice, our contribution to the force implicated us in developments of American policy in the Middle East which we could not support.

    The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we were contemplating the provision of troops. The details remain to be worked out in detail—[Interruption]—but it is our understanding and our offer that troops will be available. We are given to understand that it will not be very many and that they will be support troops.

    The answer to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) is "Yes". That applies to our European colleagues.

    The right hon. Gentleman asked about the connection with Camp David. As I said in my statement, the offer on our behalf is in support of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. He will remember that I said in my statement that we regard that as separate from the rest of the Camp David process. He asked also whether the Israelis would accept it. I hope that they will. The Israelis have been informed of our acceptance, but in accordance with the treaty they have the right of veto. However, it is our hope that they will accept the offer made by us and the other three Governments in the Ten.

    The United States is clearly aware of our position and that of the Ten. It accepts that we are not departing from it, although we are glad to make this contribution in the manner that I have described.

    I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman again, but he must be more specific in answering my final question. The House well knows, and so does the world, that American policy in the Middle East is in a state of some disarray. Nobody in the United States or outside really knows what it is. During the recent foreign affairs debate I asked the right hon. Gentleman to assure the House that Britain would not offer a contribution to meet the American request unless American policy was clarified in a way satisfactory to us. Has there been any such clarification of American policy in the past two weeks?

    As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, I do not answer for United States policy. I have said before, and I say it again, that the United States has its own policy, which is based on what it did in 1978. It understands clearly that we have our own policy, which we shall continue to pursue, and it accepts that.

    Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions on this statement before we move on to the second statement. If right hon. and hon. Members are brief, that should be adequate.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there does not exist in the House or outside that full-hearted consent that is necessary for the commitment of British troops otherwise than in performance of an international agreement to which we are a party or for the defence and interests of this country? Will the Government desist from using the Common Market as a stalking horse behind which the Foreign Office can pursue a foreign policy that is its own and not that of this country?

    This is in pursuance of a request from the United States that is supported by the Governments of Egypt and Israel. It is designed to secure peace in the Middle East after the Israelis have withdrawn from Sinai. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would think that that was an ignoble motive.

    I have not studied the immensely complicated statement that my right hon. Friend has made, but might I suggest to him that it would be more satisfactory, especially when the Israeli Government have not been fully consulted, if a more generous contribution were made to the greatest step forward to peace in the Middle East? We should assert openly that we are prepared to support this withdrawal with our forces, without the endless phrases and sub-clauses that my right hon. Friend has produced to try to square the circle with the Venice declaration. Venice has nothing at all to do with it. It has about as much to do with it as has the Battle of Hastings.

    My right hon. Friend suggests that we should make a more generous contribution. The contribution that has been mentioned to us is of the order that I have described. I am sorry that my earlier words did not reach the House. I said that our understanding is that our contribution will be about 100 men.

    In that case, may I immediately apologise to the House and say now that that is my understanding? The contribution will be one of about 100 men. The bulk of the forces are being provided by the United States, Fiji and Colombia. We are being asked for a small contingent of support troops. My right hon. Friend suggests that we should provide more. I do not think that there is any point in providing more than we are asked to provide.

    Are the Government still committed to the concept of a transitional period for the West Bank with autonomy, which was part of the Camp David process, or are they now advocating a Palestinian State on the West Bank to be instantly negotiated? If it is the latter, must they not realise that that is not possible? Would it not be better to try to widen and extend the Camp David process, to stick to the commitment on the PLO and to criticise the Israeli Government over their settlement policy?

    We have done nothing and are doing nothing—[Interruption.]—to impede the Camp David process. We are contributing to the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel, which I believe will have the support of the House. I hope that it will. The further processes are proceeding. It is our belief that those processes need reinforcement. That is why, in June 1980, in conjunction with our European partners, we issued a declaration on how we believed matters in the Middle East should proceed. That remains our position. I repeat that we are entirely content to offer support to the maintenance of peace in Sinai after the Israelis have withdrawn.

    Do the Government really believe this to be an advisable decision, in view of the warning of the Secretary-General of the Arab League about the damage that it will do to our relations with the Arab world? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the decision will make it much more difficult to bring the rejectionist States to an acceptance of the Fahd proposals, which is perhaps the most damaging aspect of this whole silly business?

    No, Sir. We are aware of the concern that our decision to participate has caused in the Arab world. We have been going to some trouble to explain to the Arabs the thinking behind our decision to participate. We hope that when the Arabs have had the chance to study the statement that I have made and to read the documents associated with it they will understand and approve of our policy.

    My right hon. Friend will be aware that this is a serious decision. Is he aware that the experience of such peacekeeping operations is that, although, desirably, they represent only a short-term measure, there is always the danger that such forces and their composition can hinder an eventual settlement? Will my right hon. Friend give the House some more information on the extent and length of our commitment?

    I recognise the dangers mentioned by my hon. Friend, but we believe that the commitment will help to ensure peace between Egypt and Israel in accordance with the treaty that they have signed. The precise details of our contribution remain to be worked out, although I have given the House an indication of its size. There is no limit on the length of our commitment. We believe that our forces will remain there for as long as they are required. Let us all hope that it will not be for too long.

    I welcome the agreement as far as it goes, but will the Minister confirm that not only does it imply no support for Camp David but also none for the Saudi initiative? The Minister talked of the possibility of further Israeli withdrawals, but are there any in prospect?

    Our position is not quite as negative as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. Of course we support the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. What we have offered to do now is in support of that treaty. It is our belief, as stated by us and by our partners in Venice last year, that, for the ultimate peace of the area, more will be needed. We shall pursue that. It is impossible as yet to tell how matters will go, but we believe that this is an important and useful first step which we, the United Kingdom, should support.

    Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise the willingness that he expressed to participate in similar forces set up to assist in withdrawal from other territories? That would go a long way to confirm that Europe intends to stick to the principles of the Venice communiqué which are essential to achieving peace, and wishes to see withdrawal from all the Arab occupied territories in conformity with resolution 242.

    I refer my hon. Friend to the following sentence in my statement:

    "We are ready to participate also in such arrangement s in the other territories currently occupied in the context of Israeli withdrawal."

    Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that this token force is to come into the area only after Israeli troops have withdrawn from Sinai and that it will remain there as part of the continuing Camp David peace process? If he will not do so, is he aware that the presence of that force will not be acceptable to all parties in that area?

    I confirm that the force will become operative only on 26 April 1982. That is the day following that on which the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel provides for total Israeli withdrawal.

    I fully support, and with great admiration, the devoted efforts of our noble Friend Lord Carrington to bring peace to the Middle East and to obtain security for all the countries there, and particularly his sympathetic reaction to Prince Fahd's eight-point plan. Bearing in mind the confusion that arose in 1967 when President Nasser asked the then United Nations force to withdraw from this area, is the position entirely clear on the circumstances in which the force can stay there, even if either Egypt or Israel ask for it to be withdrawn?

    Yes, Sir. Under the peace treaty between the two countries, both Egypt and Israel have a right of veto on the force. We hope that they will not veto this force but will allow it to be established and to remain and pursue its solely peacekeeping function.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise, however, that the sending of the force will inevitably render us liable to be accused of bias by the nations that do not accept the Camp David process? Will not that make it impossible for us to pursue a much more objective and neutral course towards bringing about peace in the Middle East, which would otherwise be possible?

    No, Sir. I do not think so, because I hope and believe that the precise nature of our force will be recognised by everyone in that area. We have not departed from the principles that we enunciated in June 1980. Everyone knows that, too.

    Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how logistic support is to be provided for the force? If our Armed Forces are called upon to participate, will they enjoy additional increment either by way of a cost of living allowance or danger pay, such as is paid in Northern Ireland? What will be the terms of service?

    That is more a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence than for me. However, it is my understanding that our forces will receive the same benefit as if they were there solely on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

    Will the Government take advantage of the new developments, even if they are somewhat obscure, to press for full American support for the European peace initiative?

    We are in constant touch with our American allies. We seek the whole time to bring our policies on the Middle East close together. We are acceding to their request, made with the approval of the Egyptian and Israeli Governments. They are well aware of our concern and that of our partners in the Community. We shall continue to work together for long-term peace in that area.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that two bus loads of members of our Armed Forces is a rather derisory figure to police an area that is nearly 1,000 miles long? Does he agree also that this initiative by the British Government is following entirely from Camp David and has nothing at all to do with the Venice declaration?