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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 78: debated on Monday 29 April 1985

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Electricity Prices


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what assumption about the likely level of electricity price increases during 1985–86 was made in determining the external financing limit for the electrical supply industry for 1985–86.

First, Mr. Speaker, I say on behalf of the House how delighted we are to see you back with us.

The EFL announced for the electricity supply industry was estimated to be consistent with an average price increase this year below the level of inflation.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that any extra cost in the production of electricity this year resulting from the coal strike will be borne out of general Government revenues and not passed on to electricity consumers?

Yes, Sir. The Government have announced that the EFL remains and that price increases remain as budgeted. Over the past few years there have been improvements, and before this year's rise electricity prices to consumers had fallen on average by 8 per cent. in real terms over the past two years.

Is my right hon. Friend aware, as is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, that one part of the United Kingdom—the Isles of Scilly—will suffer a 14 per cent. increase in electricity charges this year unless the South Western electricity board changes its mind? Will my right hon. Friend consider electricity prices on the Isle of Scilly as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been kind enough to do?

Whatever my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State considers, I consider with equal enthusiasm.

Power Stations (Emissions)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, he will discuss sulphur emissions from power stations and the implications for the level of coal burn by the electricity supply industry.

I have discussed this with the chairman of the CEGB on a number of occasions. He is well aware of Government policy on reducing sulphur emissions.

As the Secretary of State for Energy is asking for an additional £2 billion in the Coal Industry Act 1984, would it not make sound economic sense to invest a substantial part of that sum in the only coalfield in western Europe which produces high quality, low sulphur coal, which is South Wales?

The availability of low sulphur coal in the United Kingdom is limited. It is to be found mostly in Scotland and Wales and amounts to about 12 per cent. of annual output. It is among the most expensive coal to extract. It is not, therefore, an economically practical method of reducing significantly sulphur dioxide emissions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that hi south Derbyshire we like coal-fired power stations and that many of my constituents work in them? Is he aware also that we manufacture the gadgets that will help to make them cleaner in future? These are produced by a number of companies in Derby and south Derbyshire. When he meets the CEGB's planners will he urge them, when they next consider building a coal-fired power station, to place it in my constituency?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's close interest in stations in her constituency—an interest which I share. I shall draw what my hon. Friend has said to the attention of the chairman of the CEGB.

Are the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) aware that good quality, low sulphur, low chlorine coal is produced in Ayrshire as well as in Wales and can be produced economically? As there is a great demand for it, and as it is attractive environmentally, is it not stupid of the Coal Board in Scotland to say that there is no long-term future for the Killoch and Barony pits in my constituency?

I am sure that the Coal Board's chairman will have heard the hon. Gentleman's words.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that total sulphur emissions have decreased in the United Kingdom in recent years but that, generally speaking, emissions from CEGB power stations have not? Does he agree that on environmental grounds, and recognising that it is possible economically to take this course, a priority programme should be launched by the CEGB to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions?

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that sulphur dioxide emissions have already decreased significantly. They have decreased by about 40 per cent. since 1970 and 20 per cent. since 1980. Emissions from CEGB power stations have decreased since 1979 and it is the Government's intention that further reductions shall be achieved. It is intended to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction on 1980 levels by the end of the 1990s.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is not just sulphur emissions from coal-fired power stations that are responsible for acid rain? He spoke about the 30 per cent. reduction target for 1992–93 outlined by the EEC. Will he also confirm that the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board is claiming that Scotland has already achieved that 30 per cent. reduction?



asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further initiatives he proposes to take to promote energy conservation.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied that existing energy conservation schemes are adequate.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his plans to make 1986 Energy Efficiency Year.

Energy Efficiency Year, which I announced on 1 April 1985, will carry forward the momentum and progress achieved in energy efficiency since I launched the campaign 18 months ago. The year will serve as a focus to get everyone involved.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that much more has to be achieved and that, given the large number of houses occupied by the least well off, who can neither afford to pay for sufficient heat nor make the best use of the heat that they can afford to purchase, some real action is needed? Does he also accept that as much energy can be saved from effective conservation measures at lower cost and with a faster rate of return as can ever be produced by developments such as Sizewell's PWR?

One could quote any development and compare it with savings that can be effectively and efficiently made. I agree that the hon. Gentleman is talking about a sector of enormous potential savings—about £7 billion a year could be saved with such policies. As to those on low incomes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that much more needs to be done. My Department is encouraging, with some success, the voluntary groups that are bringing to low income families a whole range of aids, such as insulation and the sort of things that will reduce their energy bills considerably.

Are not more powerful financial incentives to consumers of energy needed to get greater conservation?

There is a remarkable range of incentives per industry. We estimate that over £300 million of investments could be made, which would show savings of more than 100 per cent. per annum. There is incredible complacency as well, and if we could remove that in both domestic heating and lighting and in commercial use, a great deal of progress could be made. At the moment, there is a lack of consumer awareness about what can be done.

During Energy Efficiency Year, will my right hon. Friend be looking specifically at the efficiency of coal-fired boilers? If there are potential savings here, can they be pointed out to industry so that it can reduce its costs?

Yes, in every one of the conferences that we have had on energy efficiency—we have now contacted nearly 15,000 chief executives—part of the demonstration has been to show the advantages looking positively at conversion to coal.

What co-ordination is there between the energy efficiency office and the Department of the Environment about building standard regulations, which have effects on energy conservation? Will the right hon. Gentleman's Department resist the moves that are believed to be under way to introduce new regulations that will run counter to his aims for greater energy efficiency?

As a former Secretary of State for the Environment, I recognise the wide-ranging problems about building regulations. There is good liaison between the two Departments.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that this week is the 10th anniversary of neighbourhood energy action, which has been so successful in harnessing the community task force to insulate people's homes. Will he ensure that this successful project gets every further encouragement?

What are the Secretary of State's views on the Newcastle upon Tyne experiment, in which, as the right hon. Gentleman is probably aware, an office has been set up to deal with both consumers and industry? When will his Department concentrate on consumers as well as industry?

Nobody benefits more from all that we are doing in energy efficiency than the consumer. The whole of the campaign is directed towards helping and assisting consumers to reduce their energy bills. If this campaign is a success, it will primarily be consumers who will benefit.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a theatre group from his Department recently visited my nine-year-old son's primary school and acted out the need to save energy, since when he has switched off everything in the house, including his mother's oven, and left on the television?

I have not seen any of these theatrical groups, but I gather from those who have that they have a remarkable impact and are highly successful.

Coal Industry (Subsidies)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what response he has made, or intends to make, to the recent proposals of the EEC Commission contained in the draft communication DG XVII to the Council on the phasing out of all subsidies to the coal industry.

I have seen the document. Does the Secretary of State agree that were these proposals to be implemented they would be an extremely serious threat to the future of our coal industry? Is he aware of estimates that between 150,000 to 200,000 jobs in Europe would be lost as a consequence of implementation? What are his views on the matter? Has he had any consultations? If not, when does he propose to have them?

Funnily enough, I had a consultation this morning when I had a discussion with the Commissioner responsible for energy. That was arranged some time ago. The Commissioner assures me that there are no definite Commission proposals as yet, and he very much wanted to hear our views. In general, in the light of the French Government's proposals substantially to reduce the coal industry in France, only two countries in Europe will have major coal industries. We both have a range of different opportunities and problems. Whatever the Commission does, it must understand that we know best how to tackle those problems.

When the right hon. Gentleman receives the Commission's report, will he bear in mind that when the Heads of State met about three years ago, with the Prime Minister in attendance, they recommended that EEC coal mining production should be doubled? Does that not mean that the Commission's report will fly in the face of the wishes of the Heads of State?

When almost any organisation or body, including Governments, gets into the game of making predictions, it is normally wrong.

We very much welcome what the Secretary of State said. We hope that he will keep the House fully informed of developments and report on discussions that he may have with the Commissioner and the EEC. Is he aware that when I visited the Nottingham coalfield last week great concern was expressed about these proposals, and that that concern must be allayed?

As I have said, no proposals have been received by the United Kingdom Government. I had a useful discussion with the Commissioner this morning. There will also be discussions in the Council of Ministers, which, from memory, I think will meet on 20 June. As I stated, there are in reality two countries with major coal interests, and those interests must be looked at.

North Sea Oil


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what percentage of United Kingdom North sea oil is refined within the United Kingdom; how many jobs there are in United Kingdom refineries; and how this compares with the figure in May 1979.

In 1984, 37·5 per cent. of United Kingdom North sea oil was refined within the United Kingdom. There were some 23,100 jobs in the refining industry in September 1984, compared with about 25,300 in May 1979.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the shattering blow caused to the communities affected by the BP-Llandarcy announcement, given the hundreds of jobs involved. Is he also aware that people, especially those who work in the refining industry, find it completely incomprehensible that we refine under 40 per cent. of United Kingdom North sea oil and that we have taken just as big a cut in refining capacity as other European countries which do not have a barrel of oil? Will he have urgent talks with the North sea oil companies to see whether they can improve on the amount of North sea oil that goes through our refineries, thereby possibly safeguarding at least some of the jobs in our refining industry?

I wholly appreciate how shattering that news was to the community around the refinery and to those who work there. As the hon. Gentleman knows, last week I met colleagues in the House with an interest in the matter as well as trade union representatives from the refinery. Their views are being made known to the BP management. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have a considerable refining over-capacity in relation to our demand, and in many cases, because of the nature and quality of North sea crude, it is more economic to export it and to import lower quality crudes to give us the right mix in our refineries.

Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise that the cut of the barrel must be aligned to the market and that there is adequate room for rationalisation in the United Kingdom and throughout western Europe?

In contrast with what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, it is perhaps significant that the United Kingdom's reduction in refinery capacity, as a proportion of total capacity, is very much at the lower end compared with many other countries. What has happened in this country is, therefore, to some extent not quite as bad as in some other countries.

The right hon. Gentleman has indicated his awareness of the redundancies at Llandarcy and the fact that Llandarcy's products, in the main, are to be refined at Texaco's refinery at Pembroke. Is he aware that Llandarcy is the only refinery that is geared to deal with United Kingdom land oil? Will he intevene with his right hon. Friend and urge him to reconsider his decision, which was conveyed to me in a letter, and that representations be made to the BP board to change the decision, in the national interest?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. He has, as he says, been in touch with my right hon. Friend about it. I assure him that the views of those who came to see me last week have been conveyed to British Petroleum.

May we thank the Minister for the sympathetic hearing that he gave us and our trade union colleagues when we met him last week? We gave him evidence of the allegations of a cartel operating within the refining industry in the United Kingdom, and also allegations of various back-to-back arrangements between the several oil companies. Will he look into those allegations and, if necessary, seek to lean upon BP to provide jobs, directly or indirectly, in replacement?

The important point to recognise is that it is a commercial decision of the company. The company is prepared to meet and to discuss the different aspects of it. It has made it clear that the decision was taken in the light of its commercial activities in the United Kingdom.

I have two large refineries in my constituency, Mobil and Shell, both of which have shed labour in the past few years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those oil refineries must continue to be efficient in a very highly competitive international market?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a highly competitive market. In recent years the downstream refining activities of the oil companies, have been the least profitable parts of their activities. If we are to remain with a strong refining capacity, which I hope we shall, we must be competitive with overseas countries.

Does the Minister understand that, of the 1,000 job losses at Ellesmere Port, 350 fall on employees living in my constituency?

In the light of the Llandarcy redundancies, I remind the Minister that male unemployment is more than one in five in west Glamorgan. Does he know that Wales has lost 103,000 manufacturing jobs since 1979?

Yes, I am aware of those figures. They were among the points put to me by some of those who came to the meeting last week. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Welsh Office was also represented at that meeting, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is fully aware of the position. I have spoken to him since that meeting.

National Coal Board


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what topics will be discussed when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board.

I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board regularly to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. MacGregor, will he call into question Mr. MacGregor's view that while running a decentralised operation there should be massive anomalies in the treatment of the labour force from one area to another? Will the Secretary of State ask Mr. MacGregor to explain why it is that miners in Scotland who have been dismissed because of activities outwith the NCB during the dispute have not been considered in terms of the conciliation procedure within the board?

While we in Scotland expect to be treated differently on occasions, we are not prepared to be treated worse by a Scot who should be sent back to America.

Obviously, Mr. MacGregor meets his regional leaders frequently and has discussions with them. I know that there is a constant exchange of views between them.

Perhaps greater examination of dismissals before the dismissals took place was made in Scotland than in any part of the country. There was a time when other regions were complaining that the speed with which people were being sacked in those regions was far greater than in Scotland, where cases were being looked at carefully.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the chairman of the NCB to make sure that when the plans for the vast new south Warwickshire coalfield are announced in the not too distant future there will be the widest possible local consultation and a full explanation of the NCB's case?

Is the Secretary of State aware that in a large number of Yorkshire collieries industrial relations are now at rock bottom and rotten? Is he further aware that in the past 20 years, by custom and practice, and by general agreement between management and men, the trade union branch secretary has been allowed three days on the surface of the mine to look after miners', widows', pensioners' and disabled miners' problems, as well as his own trade union work? The management has now stopped that and is making him work five days a week underground. Apart from the sour and bitter relations that exist at those pits at present, the people who most need his services are being denied it because of the board's action. There is a suggestion that it is by diktat of the chairman of the NCB. What are the Secretary of State's observations about that? Will he ensure that when he next meets the board he will raise that issue?

I shall certainly convey the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman on that issue. Nobody has previously conveyed any complaint to me, about that issue. Obviously, we shall look into the matter and see whether there is any reason to make a change.

Will my right hon. Friend be able to reassure the chairman that extra resources will be made available for the coal conversion scheme?

Resources are available for the coal conversion scheme. I am glad to report that there are many applications for it. The success of the scheme depends on the degree to which industry can be confirmed in the view that there will be a security of supply.

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of the NCB the management of the Coal Board now that the industrial dispute is over? Does he agree that it would be better if a method of reconciliation could be found, and if all the members of the Coal Board, all the staff and the work force, could be involved in discussions and participate in the new decentralised structure?

A great deal has already been done in the new executive, which is advising and acting in this area and which has a wide range of good top managers. The return to good production figures in many of the pits is encouraging.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the chairman more capital investment in the midlands, where industrial relations are extremely good and where the work force clearly works harder and is more reliable than any other?

The Coal Board has a whole range of potential investment areas. It will certainly be noted that high productivity is an encouragement to investment.

Would it be right for a man found not guilty by the courts to be ruled guilty by the NCB?

If the matter was not taken up by the courts, or if there were other reasons for doing so, if anyone from the Coal Board is wrongfully dismissed, he has considerable rights against wrongful dismissal.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Coal Board has taken proper steps to safeguard from harassment from their colleagues the miners who worked during the strike?

Yes, the management has been firm in taking action against anybody in the industry who has been guilty of harassment. When it has received evidence of harassment, it has taken swift, decisive action.

In view of the latest demonstration of the evils of apartheid—the shooting of innocent unarmed workers—will the Secretary of State give Mr. MacGregor a categorical statement that under no circumstances must he import coal from South Africa?

As far as I know, no coal is being imported from South Africa. However, I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views.

As 11,903 miners left the industry between 10 March 1984 and 9 March 1985, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to protect working miners who are still being harassed and intimidated and who need the support of the country?

Obviously, I have been told of a number of individual cases, which I conveyed immediately to the Coal Board. In my judgment, the board has dealt effectively with every case that it has examined and has been reported to me to date. That is the board's intention.

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of the NCB, will he ask him to expedite the work of the new review body and to give the numbers of closures required before colliery closures take place, not afterwards?

I believe that a meeting on that subject is taking place tomorrow and I hope that quick progress will be made. Those miners who have taken voluntary redundancy have done so because it was the majority view of the miners that that was necessary, not because the NCB laid down some policy. With his considerable knowledge of the mining industry, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that if miners have to choose between a pit without a future, transfer to another pit, voluntary redundancy or being sent home for four or five months, they may well vote that way. I hope that, in the aftermath of the strike, it will be recognised that it is in the interests of miners to come to such a decision.

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the NCB the congratulations of the House on the work of the mining research and development establishment at Stanhope-Bretby; which has just received its fouth Queen's award for technology for its work on dust? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that work has so eradicated the dust problem underground that pnumoconiosis should be a disease of the past and that mining in future will be cleaner and safer?

I think that both sides of the House will applaud the work of that establishment.

I share the Secretary of State's hope that the NACODS agreement will be introduced and operated as from tomorrow, but will he inform the NCB that if it wants to reduce the distrust and suspicion that remains prevalent in the industry, that step tomorrow would be the most useful that it could take?

I cannot say what everybody will be demanding tomorrow, because a number of delegations are involved, not just those from NACODS. I can only say that I want the principles of that agreement enforced as quickly as possible, and I know that that is the view of the NCB. The hon. Gentleman talks about suspicions and so forth, but I hope it will be recognised that a number of decisions made to date have been made not by the NCB working against the interests of the miners but as a result of the consensus of miners.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the NACODS agreement had been fully implemented there would be no need for the ballot that is now taking place so that its members can decide whether to take industrial action? When the right hon. Gentleman sees the chairman of the NCB, will he ask him to explain why there are such wide discrepancies about reinstatement in different areas? Why is Scotland so different from, say, south Wales, or other areas? Why is the Coal Board carrying out a vendetta against certain people?

There is no truth or substance in that allegation. I have no evidence of that, and if I did I would take action. There is no such evidence. No procedures have taken place for men to take voluntary redundancy, and so on, which have not been on the basis of what the miners themselves wanted.

Energy Efficiency Programmes


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has plans to increase the number of sectors participating in monitoring and targeting programmes for increasing energy efficiency.

At present 20 sectors are participating in the monitoring and targeting programme run by the Energy Efficiency Office. In view of the success of the programme in helping firms achieve savings, I plan to increase the number of sectors to 40.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the pleasure that it gives to hear that the scheme is to be extended, but can he say what savings have already been identified through the pilot scheme?

Yes. Major successes have been identified in the two pilot sectors. The four mills in the project in the paper and board industry reduced energy costs by £1 million with virtually no investment, and the four mills in the textile industry taking part in the pilot scheme have already identified savings of 18 per cent. Those achievements set a marvellous example for the rest of British industry.

Coal Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the prospects for the coal industry for 1985–86.

1985–86 will be a year of reconstruction, following the damage done both to mines and to markets by the strike. In order to secure its long-term future, the industry will also need to make progress in bringing down the average costs of production.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the industry should look forward rather than back and regain the customers that it lost during the dispute, and that it could best do that by producing a good product, efficiently, at a competitive price?

Yes. There is obviously a considerable task in hand, but nothing could be better than if we could show that productivity was improving and that the product would be reliably and constantly supplied to the market place that is willing to take it. The coal industry has a considerable potential in Britain.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that prospects for reconciliation in the coal industry in south Wales would be greatly enhanced if the five men sacked from the Phurnacite plant in my constituency on the say-so of Mr. MacGregor were reinstated forthwith? Two of them were sacked for allegedly spitting at the one working miner among 6,000 in the constituency during the strike. Should they not be reinstated forthwith?

Any decisions on individual cases must be taken by the management, which has taken great care in the matter.

The Secretary of State has been asked about the prospects for the industry. Does he agree that if there is to be reconstruction and good prospects there must be new investment and new pit sinkings? Is he aware that, even in Nottinghamshire and the midlands, investment contracted between 1979 and 1983–84? In 1979–80, £78 million was invested in north Nottinghamshire. That figure has been reduced to £55 million. In south Nottinghamshire there was a reduction from £55 million to £27 million. In the south midlands there was a reduction from £77 million to £33 million. There is a great deal of reconstruction to be done. The right hon. Gentleman should tell his hon. Friends who represent those areas that without new investment and new pit sinkings the industry will contract.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to compare the record of the Labour Government on investment with that of the present Government, I shall be very happy to do so.

Opencast Workings


asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much coal he anticipates will be drawn from opencast workings in the next five years.

The level of opencast output is determined primarily by market demand. I am not in a position to forecast what that demand might be in the next five years.

Does my hon. Friend realise that opencast working is a most profitable investment and would produce a much better return for the money which the Government are to pour into the mining industry? Should we not lift opencast production from 12 or 15 million tonnes to perhaps 20 million tonnes?

I agree with my hon. Friend's comment about the opencast industry. The future is very good indeed.

It is all very well for Conservative Members to advocate the expansion of opencast working. However, is the Minister aware of the possible environmental consequences of an expansion of opencast working. Do not our communities have as much right to a good environment as those in Finchley, Reigate or the Wirral?

I agree. I do not think that there is any difference of opinion between the hon. Gentleman and myself on that point. There is always the question—sometimes a very difficult one—of marrying the disadvantages to the environment with the great advantages to the country.

Double Glazing


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the contribution double glazing presently makes towards savings in energy resources.

The Minister will be aware of the representations made by the Glass and Glazing Federation. Is he aware that since the imposition of value added tax on double glazing hundreds of small companies have gone bankrupt and nearly a thousand jobs have disappeared in the north-west? Does the Minister not agree that VAT is unnecessary in this important sector of industry?

The imposition of VAT is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the installation of double glazing has many advantages. One of the major objectives of the Glass and Glazing Federation is that householders should use energy more efficiently. That objective has the full co-operation of the Energy Efficiency Office and of my Department.

Could my hon. Friend make any reassuring noises about the future of the home energy audit scheme?

I very much support the concept of energy labelling, and look forward to further progress towards that end.

Electricity Industry (Investment)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Board to discuss future investment levels in the industry.

I shall be discussing this matter during my regular meetings with the chairman of the CEGB.

In view of the facts given ealier about the progress made by the CEGB in controlling and reducing sulphur emissions, will my hon. Friend join me in deploring the personal attack on Sir Walter Marshall, the chairman of the CEGB, by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), in early-day motion 583? In contradiction of the views expressed in that motion, will my hon. Friend continue to give the fullest possible support to Sir Walter in the research and development taking place into the control of pollution?

I agree that personal attacks are usually regrettable. I thoroughly agree that the CEGB has made and continues to make a substantial contribution to the Government's intention of achieving a further drop in sulphur dioxide emissions. The Board has played a full part in the continued improvement of power station efficiency, the growing nuclear contribution, energy efficiency efforts and in collaboration with my Department on new power station designs to reduce emissions.

Renewable Resources


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the proportion of total United Kingdom energy needs which could be met by renewable resources, including solar, geothermal and wind and wave power, in five years' time.

My Department's aims are to encourage the uptake of commercially attractive renewable technologies and to increase understanding of those that are promising but uncertain. We expect only a small input from renewables by 1990, but, in the longer term, this should grow significantly.

Although I appreciate that only a relatively small proportion of Britain's energy needs can be met by renewable resources, does my right hon. Friend agree that they could form a significant proportion of the energy needed in certain localities? Will he bear that local consideration in mind when assessing the need for research, development and encouragement?

Yes, Sir. That is one reason why a lot of money is being spent on electricity production from wind, as it is specially applicable in some remoter communities. We are watching with interest the progress of the Orkney experiment and the considerable amount of money that we put into it.

House Of Commons

Research And Secretarial Staff


asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the average number of secretaries per hon. Member; and if he will make a statement.

The average number of secretaries per hon. Member is 0.9. This figure includes only those secretaries who have passes for the Palace of Westminster.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving that fascinating figure. Does he agree that some hon. Members receive much more constituency mail than others? Does he think that that is due rather to popularity than to notoriety? Is he aware that secretaries of hon. Members with heavy mail need extra help? Will he consider initiating a typing pool to which the odd tape could be sent for typing up, say once or twice a week?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the work load varies as between hon. Members and as between various times of the year in respect of all hon. Members. I hope that the present allowances cover the secretarial requirements of hon. Members. 1 would not wish to encourage any into thinking that further provision could be made along the lines that have been suggested.

Is the Leader of the House aware that what he has just said is completely wrong and that an increasing number of hon. Members on both sides of the House no longer treat this place as a gentleman's club but as a place of work? Is he further aware that, to provide an efficient service to constituents, there should be adequate secretarial and research facilities? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that this matter will be considered again during this Parliament?

I do not think that the facilities of the Palace have ever—at least in the recent past—suggested that it was a gentleman's club. I have already said that the decisions arrived at last year for the secretarial allowance should be given a reasonable run before reconsideration.

Has my right hon. Friend noted during his years in the House that the work output of hon. Members can vary greatly? Does he think it right that, if an hon. Member has a high profile in his constituency and therefore attracts a great deal of work, he sometimes has to pay for extra secretarial work out of his own funds? Does he think that that is proper? If not, does he have any proposals to do anything about it?

No, I have no proposals. I think that the salary and the secretarial allowance are based on a standard figure. The House has had plenty of experience of working within the secretarial and research allowances and, last year, voted on the level of those allowances.

Is the Leader of the House aware that when I was a Euro-MP I received about £30,000 for secretarial and research allowances and was able to keep a researcher and a secretary fully occupied? [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my research shows that I now do seven times as much correspondence as when I was a Euro-MP? I do not doubt that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have bigger postbags than me, but is it not ridiculous that the allowances for hon. Members do not enable us to employ two good members of staff to cope with all the work that we have to do?

The House took a view last year on the appropriate level of pay. What the hon. Gentleman has just said reflects as much upon what happens at Strasbourg as on what happens here.

Written Questions


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the increased numbers of questions tabled for written answer in the last few years, and the increasing cost of answering them, he will bring forward proposals to limit the number of such questions which can be tabled by hon. Members.

I have no immediate plans to do so, but I note the hon. Gentleman's concern.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my figures show that during the last Session there were more than 42,000 written questions, compared with 21,000 four years ago, and that the cost of answering them came to £1·68 million? Is he also aware that there is some evidence that the system is being abused by outside bodies? I can tell him that there are two Conservative Members now in the House who are in the pay of drug companies. During the present Session they have tabled 70 written questions to the Department of Health and Social Security compared with a total of 23 from those two hon. Members in the last four years. Does that not demonstrate a prima facie case of gross abuse whereby the taxpayer is asked to foot the bill for the research of private companies outside the House?

I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's concern about the increasing use of written questions which, if they are adjusted on a sittings day basis, have risen from 139 for the Session 1980–81 to 188 in the current Session—an increase of about 43 per cent. I suggest that the specific matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman touch more on the declaration of interests of hon. Members and that he should refer his remarks to the corresponding Select Committee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that another factor responsible for the explosion in the number of questions is the increase in the number of hon. Members' research assistants? Is he aware that one hon. Member of whom I know has had at least five research assistants at one time, most of them provided by American universities?

The Services Committee has recently reported on this matter. I hope that its report will be available to the House fairly shortly.

Research And Secretarial Staff


asked the Lord Privy Seal what information he has about the number of research and secretarial staff available to elected numbers of national assemblies in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and the United States of America, respectively.

The information I have received suggests that there is a considerable variety in the provision made for the funding of Members' personal staff.

Does the Leader of the House agree that virtually all the Assemblies in the countries listed provide their elected Members with more support than we have? Does he also agree that last year's decision by the House is one which many hon. Members on both sides of the House now regret? Would not the position be different if we had a trade union acting on behalf of our interests?

I do not think that I am immediately convinced of the last point made by the hon. Gentleman. However, he is right to say that many Parliaments provide more secretarial and research facilities for their Members. It was a matter touched upon by the Top Salaries Review Body in its 20th report, but I have to repeat what I said when I was last asked about this a few weeks ago: I rest upon the vote taken by the House last year.

Why do some hon. Members seem to manage quite well on the allowances when others who do no more work do not seem to manage adequately? Why are we concerned about public expenditure in every area except when it affects our own allowances?

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. There is such an extraordinary variety of response because, mercifully, the House of Commons is a very varied institution.

Does the Leader of the House realise the intense danger to the House of being regarded by people as increasingly irrelevant? Is not that sense of irrelevance growing, not least because the power of Back-Bench Members has been declining so dramatically? If hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see the power of Back Benchers increased, is not one way of doing that to make sure that they have sufficient facilities to do their job properly? It is not being said that they must do it. We are asking for that service, and the House deserves it.

If this place is regarded as being so irrelevant, I am surprised that people of such distinction still try to make their way here, not least people in the Brent constituency. If there is one way in which the House of Commons will be cocooned, it will be if it cocoons itself with research assistants.

Late-Night Sittings


asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will take steps to seek to reduce the number of late-night sittings.

Business is already planned to take account of the many demands upon parliamentary time, whilst seeking to avoid late-night sittings wherever possible.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, with the House sitting on average until 12.52 am and with the number of late-night sittings this Session being the highest for the past 11 Sessions, something should be done as a matter of urgency, especially because of the number of Government Bills being passed—60 in 1983–84? Will my right hon. Friend try to speed up decisions on this matter so that the House stops work at 12 midnight?

I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. I am told that to date, this Session, the House has risen on average at 12.43 am, which is not very different from previous years.

Civil Service



asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many persons were seconded to the Civil Service during the last 12 months for which figures are available.

There were 116 secondments to the Civil Service from organisations in industry and commerce in 1984. The details are given in a report on the interchange programme published today by the Management and Personal Office, copies of which I am placing in the Library of the House.

I understand that the number of secondments has increased in recent years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Civil Service would benefit from a greater increase in interchange? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if there were a reciprocal process, especially with civil servants being seconded to industries, this could only be beneficial?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the interchange programme is generally extremely useful and beneficial to all concerned. The numbers coming into the Civil Service from outside and the numbers seconded from the Civil Service to industries and organisations outside are increasing. I very much hope that this trend will continue.

Does the Minister accept that the appointment of some people from outside the Civil Service to temporary posts, such as Mr. Levene's appointment, has drawn unprecedented strictures from the Civil Service Commission, which has pointed out that established procedures were set aside in Mr. Levene's appointment? Will the hon. Gentleman give a firm commitment that in future all appointments from within and outside the Civil Service will be based on open competition and not on political patronage of any kind?

The principle of fair and open competition for Civil Service appointments is an extremely important one, which has been maintained over the years and must continue to be maintained. The suggestion that the procedures followed in Mr. Levene's appointment were wrong is misplaced.

On secondment, it has been the long-standing practice of successive Administrations not to believe that a qualification certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners was required. Only at the time of Mr. Levene's appointment did legal advice come forward saying that such a certificate was required. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government immediately took steps to recognise the position. In the event, Mr. Levene was not seconded. He was appointed under a fixed term contract not exceeding five years. The proper procedures were followed.

Trade Unions (Meetings)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions; and what subjects were discussed.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave him on 18 February about my last meeting with the Civil Service unions on 4 December 1984. My right hon. and noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster met representatives of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants on 2 April to hear their views in favour of extending unified grading in the Civil Service.

Is the Minister aware that four Civil Service unions are tomorrow meeting the Secretary of State for Employment to argue their case for their pay claim to be put to arbitration, which has been refused by the Treasury? Will the Minister support the unions in that modest request?

I hope to be present at the meeting with the unions. The determination of their request for arbitration is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I would not seek to prejudge what will happen at the meeting.

Has the Minister discussed with the Civil Service unions the possibility of a better and longer term method of determining Civil Service pay, including some element of fair comparison?

Yes. Following publication of the Megaw report, the Government made it clear that they believed that negotiations should take place on long-term arrangements for determining Civil Service pay, based on the Megaw report. The Government's intention was that those negotiations should succeed. In fact, the negotiations ceased at the beginning of last year, but the Government have again made it clear in the current pay round that they believe that it is in the long-term national interest for such an agreement to be achieved, and I hope that substantive discussions can begin soon.

Has my hon. Friend met the Civil Service trade unions representing Her Majesty's Nuclear Inspectorate, which still has grave reservations about its dispersal to Bootle? If he has not recently met them, will he make arrangements to do so?

That would be a matter for, I think, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who is responsible for the Health and Safety Executive, of which, I believe, that groups forms part.

When the Minister meets the Civil Service unions, will he explain to them why, when there has been a substantial increase in productivity in the Civil Service as a result of the substantial cuts in manpower, he has allowed the real pay of civil servants to fall by 14 per cent. compared with the 1980 level? Will he also explain why he has allowed a shortfall of 20 per cent. to arise between them and other white collar workers?

I note the base year which the right hon. Gentleman takes for his comparison. It is curious that he does not take as his base the last year for which his Government were responsible. If we take that as the base year, we see that the increase in the earnings of civil servants has well exceeded the rate of inflation.

When the pilot scheme for the use of the polygraph at GCHQ has been completed, will the Minister hold discussions with the Civil Service trade unions? I remind him that the Select Committee on Employment advised the Government that polygraphs and their tests were useless.

Questions about GCHQ and the use of polygraphs should be addressed in the first instance to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Has the Minister discussed the morale of civil servants with their representatives? Is he aware that the recent ballots on strike action came dangerously close to calling for industrial action? Does that not show that something is seriously wrong with morale? Is not part of the reason for that the way that the Government keep attacking civil servants?

The recent ballots showed that, in what they had been saying before the ballots took place, the leaders of the civil service unions were not adequately reflecting the majority view of their members. I am glad that the unions followed the requirements of the Trade Union Act 1984 and that the public were, therefore, not inconvenienced by strikes called by union leaders who were not fully representing their members.


Sizewell Inquiry


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the final cost to public funds of the Sizewell inquiry.

The final cost of the inquiry will become evident only when the inspector has completed his report. However, costs up to 31 March 1985 either falling to my Department or recoverable from the CEGB total approximately £2,407,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that that inquiry has gone wide of planning, and that the wider policy issues raised would be better decided and discussed by Parliament? Does he agree that future applications to build new types of power stations should be assessed in a way that is cheaper and takes less time?

As the House will be aware, the Government have made clear on a number of occasions their view that the inquiry should be full and wide-ranging. Decisions on future inquiries will be taken in the light of circumstances prevailing from time to time.

As there is intense public interest in the inquiry, when will the Secretary of State be able to give the House the time scale of how the matter will be processed?

The timing of the report is a matter for the inspector. My right hon. Friend will lose no time when it is in his hands.