§ 4. Mr. Edwin Wainwright
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will give the number of tons consumed at coal-fired power stations over each of the past six years; what are the estimated consumptions over each of the next three years; and if he will give the comparable figures in million tons of coal equivalent for oil-fired power stations.
§ Mr. Benn
With permission, I will circulate the details in the Official Report.
Over the last three years there has been an increase in coalburn of 4½ million tons, and a decrease in oilburn of 9.6 million tons coal equivalent. The CEGB's present central estimate of coal consumption in the current financial year is 68 million tons—that is, an increase of over 1 million tons over last year—with oil consumption down by over 3 million tons, to about 13 million tons coal equivalent. Over the next two years the consumption of both fuels may be expected to increase slightly.
§ Mr. Wainwright
Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is a feeling throughout the industry that the Government are lax in making a decision about a new coal-fired station? When will they make up their mind to build a power station so that, when the coal at Selby starts coming on stream, the power station will be available to use it? Will he also take into account that the plant-making industry is greatly disturbed because of the lack of work, and that if we are not careful, because we are reluctant to make a decision, we shall lose highly-skilled teams of men to other countries, which would be a great loss to this country?
§ Mr. Benn
I confirm the importance of this decision. My hon. Friend knows that I have met the management and unions on this matter. The papers that have come in, particularly on the trade union side, have been of the highest order, and have contained great detail. They have been put before Members and the Government. There has never been any doubt in the Government's mind that another coal-fired station would be linked with Selby. With the postponement of the SGHWR, which was announced in the summer, the question of another order for a coal-fired station is very much in the Government's mind. However, I must ask my hon. Friend to await the announcement of the decision.
§ Mr. Costain
Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the process of getting rid of fly ash from power stations, thousands of hectares of good land are being destroyed? Will he institute research to see whether this fly ash can be put into derelict mines, and so preserve the countryside?
§ Mr. Skinner
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the urgency of the Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright)? Does he appreciate that it is not good enough constantly to tell us that the Government are considering, reviewing and thinking about and that they have got the matter in mind? It is time that some action was taken. Thousands of people will be thrown out of jobs in the power generating industry if action is not taken. When all these factors have been taken into account over this long period, will my right hon. Friend get something done?
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend knows very well, because I have discussed this matter with a number of people over a long period, that the Government have been working on it for a considerable period. They set up an inquiry through the CPRS to consider the impact on the plant industry. The responsible Minister is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. There has been no lack of urgency by the Government. If my hon. Friend discussed this matter with those concerned in the industry, he would discover that they are well satisfied with 7 the extent to which the Government have taken this problem on board.
§ Mr. Biffen
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has been most unfair towards him and that we appreciate that there are serious difficulties attending any Government decision that will add to the total installed electricity capability when there is already a substantial shortfall in demand?
§ Mr. Benn
Undoubtedly one of the problems confronting the Government is that there has been no energy planning for a long period and there have been wide fluctuations in forecasts by the CEGB which have gravely affected the prospects for continuous work in the industry. These matters must be sorted out. At the same time, it would be a tragedy if this country were to run any risk whatever of losing capacity in the heavy electrical industry, upon which so much of our future at home and abroad depends. The Government have made this clear at every meeting with delegations from the industry, both management and unions.
The following are the details:
The consumption of coal and oil in CEGB power stations during the last six financial years has been:
Year Coal (million tons) Oil (million tons coal equivalent) 1970–71 … 67.5 19.4 1971–72 … 61.5 22.7 1972–73 … 61.9 26.2 1973–74 … 62.7 24.2 1974–75 … 63.8 23.2 1975–76 … 66.4 16.6