HL Deb 23 July 1979 vol 401 cc1687-778

5.47 p.m.

Lord SHERFIELD rose to call attention to the growing urgency of the energy situation in Europe and to three relevant reports of the European Communities Committee, namely, the Twenty-First Report (Session 1978–79) on Energy Objectives for 1990 [H.L. 143], the Third Report on Energy Conservation [H.L. 18] and the Sixth Report on Fusion Research [H.L. 19]; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The energy problem is a global one and, as such, has rightly received the highest priority at the recent summit meeting. But it can and should also be considered at regional and at national levels. In the recent debate in your Lordships' House on 4th July, the problem was considered partly in the global and partly in the national dimension.

This evening I am asking the House to consider aspects of the problem which relate to Europe on the basis of three reports emanating from the Select Committee on the European Communities. As your Lordships are aware, this committee is enjoined to scrutinise documents issuing from the Commission in Brussels. These three reports deal with the most important documents in the energy field which have been issued in the past six or eight months, and which have so far been referred to the sub-committee on energy for scrutiny. One other matter in this field: a document on the programme of the Community's joint research centre remains to be considered, and a report on this will be completed before the House goes into Recess next week.

I regret that the reports on energy conservation and on the fusion programme have had to be circulated without some of their appendices. This is due to industrial action in Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I think that the documentation before your Lordships is sufficiently clear to allow of an informed debate; but its circulation has placed an additional burden on the staff of the committee and I wish to record my thanks to them for their efforts in making this debate possible. I might add en passant that a somewhat Gilbertian situation exists, in that these two reports are already available in printed form in bookshops. But as they are circulated to your Lordships through Her Majesty's Stationery Office they are held up on account of the aforesaid industrial action.

These three reports may not at first sight seem to be closely linked, but in fact they are part of a whole. The Report on Energy Conservation or what in the Brussels dialect is called the Rational Use of Energy (RUE for short) deals with what we can do here and now, without delay if we have the resolve, to mitigate the energy shortage. The report on the fusion programme deals with an as yet unproven contribution to the energy programme, which may or may not turn out to be of benefit to the grandchildren of the younger Members of your Lordships' House and, in my case, to my great-grandchildren. They therefore deal with opposite ends of the energy spectrum at which we are now looking. There is another important contrast between these two reports. Energy conservation, or RUE, is a process primarily dependent upon national action. The role of the Commission is that of a co-ordinator, a centre of information, and an energiser. The Committee think that the Commission has devoted insufficient attention to this activity but at the same time they recognise the difficulties in the way of their getting effective results.

The fusion programme, on the other hand, is a copybook example of a Community research programme: wide-reaching, fully integrated, amply funded, inherited from an original Euratom initiative, and being carried out in no fewer than 14 different research establishments. These two specialised reports for the immediate present and for the distant future have both to be considered against the sombre backdrop of the third report, which deals with energy objectives for the 1990s.

I shall say no more on energy conservation. The noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, was the rapporteur on this matter to the Select Committee. He carried the burden of the investigation and he will be speaking to the report after I have sat down. I should like to thank him in advance of his speech for the effort he has put into the production of the report.

I will now take a few comments on, to give it its full title, The Proposal for the Research and Training Programme in the Field of Controlled Thermo-Nuclear Fusion, 1979 to 1983. This is, as I have indicated, an on-going programme. It is the fifth in a series of five-year programmes which, however, on a system known as " rolling programmes " is reviewed at the end of three years. We are therefore concerned with the programme for 1978 to 1983. The programme is based on indirect research—that is, on bilateral contracts between Euratom and national institutions, under which the cost is shared between the Commission and the institution concerned. Typically, the Community pays between 25 per cent. and 45 per cent. of the cost, depending on the type of project. The programme does not include the JET project at Culham, which is separately financed, or the fusion work at the Joint Research Council at ISPRA and elsewhere, which is an example of direct research wholly financed and managed by the Commission. There is also research work under the auspices of the International Energy Agency, to which the Commission contributes.

The programme provides for the continuation of the present activity, for its extension and for the introduction of new activities. This programme has already been endorsed, quite uncritically as a matter of fact, by a report from the European Parliament. It was due to be considered and adopted at a meeting of the EEC Research Council, which is the relevant authority, on 26th June last. That meeting was postponed, but it is likely to take place before the House again resumes.

After general approval by the Research Council, each individual project in the programme requires approval by the national authorities and the appropriate Community technical committee. I will not weary your Lordships by going into this programme in detail or discussing fusion in general. There is adequate information in the report and I am sure that later speakers will pick up specific points.

Your committee is concerned about three main matters: the absolute size of the programme; the question of its control; and its relation to other Community research and development programmes in the energy field. Obviously we are not suggesting that the fusion programme should not continue and develop, or that rising costs due to inflation should not be met, or that the JET programme at Culham can provide all the answers to the problems of the Tokamak type of fusion reaction of which it is an example; but the proposed programme is very large, both in absolute and relative terms. It is costed at the equivalent of about £500 million sterling up to 1983, which represents, even at 1977 prices, an increase of 40 per cent. To that must be added the inflation factor, the cost of the JET project, of the fusion work of the Joint Research Council and of the Community's contribution to the work of the International Energy Agency in this field.

It is inevitable that a programme of this nature should breed strong vested interests and should acquire an inbuilt momentum of its own. It also seems to be the case—unfortunately but perhaps inevitably—that the long battle over the siting of the JET project has left some wounds which could affect the development of the programme. Secondly, the committee voiced some concern about the management and control of so large a programme, carried out in so many different centres. This problem is inherent, and the committee have no reason to doubt that the difficulties are fully realised by all concerned in its management. Nevertheless, this needs watching. Thirdly, the committee were impressed by the fact that, whereas it is proposed to spend the equivalent of £500 million on fusion research, only £70 million is allocated to the committee's main non-nuclear energy research programme over the same period, and only £15 million of this goes to energy conservation.

These considerations led the committee to recommend that the Governments concerned should be fully satisfied, in advance of approving the programme even in principle, that so large an extension can be justified at this stage, that the management of the programme is effectively co-ordinated, and that the existing activities will be regularly scrutinised to see whether they should not be reduced or terminated to make room for new work. The committee considered further that caution and deliberation in approving a programme, fraught with so many uncertainties and geared to a time scale of half a century, is fully justified. In a sentence, there is absolutely no case for crash action, as there may well be in other parts of the energy field. Finally, the committee drew attention in a very general way to the fact, sometimes overlooked, that fusion reactors could have a substantial environmental impact. The committee were glad to be told that representatives of the Government are discussing the size and shape of the programme with the other Member States, and that there may well be changes before the programme finally goes to the Research Council. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in replying to the debate, may be able to give some indication of the Government's attitude to this programme.

I shall conclude with a few words about the Commission's communication on energy objectives for 1990. This is an interim communication drawn up before the revolution in Iran, but it is a useful document, considered by the committee to he more realistic and more valuable than earlier work by the Commission in this field. It goes no further than 1990, whereas it is desirable that projections should cover a longer time scale. Useful projections up to the year 2020 were contained in the last World Energy Conference's report on energy demand and supply, and the committee therefore make available a summary of this report, for which they are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, now, I am happy to say, recovering rapidly from an operation to relieve his lameness.

Your committee were informed that the Commission were at work refining the figures in this report and bringing it up to date. Last week, a revised communication reached London. It is entitled Energy Objectives of. the Community for 1990 and Convergence of Policies of the Member States, and it has attached to it a draft resolution for the Council. This is quite a meaty document which will require scrutiny by your committee, together with a number of supporting documents which the Commission are to issue but which, so far as I know, have not yet come to hand. It will, of course, also go to the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee.

At first sight, this communication, as might he expected, does not point to any amelioration of the situation in Europe. On the demand side, one might have thought that the figure of 3.8 per cent. for the annual average growth rate for Europe up to 1990, which is assumed in the previous report and was considered by your committee to be too high, would be reduced. But, on the contrary, it is stated in the new communication that estimates received from Member States updated to February last correspond to an annual average rate of 3.9 per cent. It must, I fear, be supposed that this will also prove to be too high.

On the other side of the account, the estimate of the yield from nuclear power in 1990, again thought by the committee to be too high, has been only marginally reduced. With such uncertainties there will continue to be difficulty in assessing the extent to which the rate of increase in energy demand is affected by lower than expected economic growth, or by the impact of energy conservation programmes.

Returning to the communication referred to in the Motion, the Commission emphasised the need for more public information on the prospect of an energy shortage and on the measures which might help to minimise it. To some extent, world events have since met this need. In this connection, the committee suggest that the Commission could usefully study the comparative risks involved in different forms of energy. This proposal has also since been underlined by the impact of the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, near Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. The emotional repercussions of this serious accident, which caused great anxiety and inconvenience to a great number of people, but which, in fact, led, so far as I know, to no serious injuries or loss of life, will retard the already lagging rate of nuclear building in Europe.

Only the French are comparatively unaffected by these reactions to nuclear development. Their tendency to think rather than feel has kept them steady on their course and enabled them to build up what promises to be a commanding lead in nuclear technology over the emotional Anglo-Saxons. I am glad that the present Government now seem willing to take a leaf out of the French book and give the growth of nuclear power the priority it deserves, for, as the Commission's communication shows, the energy shortage in Europe cannot be met without a much more substantial nuclear component than is at present in view.

The committee commented in their report on the failure to develop an energy policy in Europe. They expressed the hope, first, that the increasing prospect of shortages would enable the Community's energy policy to be conducted with a degree of coherence and urgency so far lacking; and, secondly, that the United Kingdom would take the lead in the Council in formulating an effective policy for the 1980s and beyond. Since your Lordship's committee reported, the new Administration has adopted a much more forthcoming approach to our policy within the Community. Nobody, I am sure, supposes that there are not plenty of obstacles to overcome. Nobody, I am equally sure, expects them to weaken in their defence of legitimate British interests. But the new approach should now enable progress to be made, in the energy field in particular. The new communication from the Commission, and its supporting documents to which I have referred, will form a basis for a fresh appreciation when the Energy Council meets again and will, I hope, give a new impetus to the coordination of policy.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, made two masterly speeches in the same debate in this House on 4th July, in which he touched on most aspects of the energy problem. I, for one, do not expect him to repeat himself this evening. But perhaps he will be able to underline, and to elaborate on, some of the points he then made, which have particular relevance to the reports that are now before the House. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, has told you, I intend to talk on the committee's report on energy conservation. The two specific Community proposals referred to us for scrutiny are draft Directives on the indication by labelling of the energy consumption of domestic appliances and electric ovens, and the second four-year energy research and development programme for 1979–83. However, I should point out that the committee have gone wider than these proposals, and have taken them as an opportunity to conduct a general inquiry into the Community's conservation policy—specifically, its rational use of energy programme. We feel that this is justified in the circumstances and, indeed, the labelling proposals themselves are sufficient reason. They are not exactly impressive signs of the Commission's labours. The two draft directives on the labelling of domestic appliances simply propose a standard form of labelling and, secondly, apply specific standards only for domestic electric ovens—not even the accompanying hot plates and grills, just ovens. If this is the only tangible result of over four years of work, we have little reason to throw our hats in the air and shout, " Carry on, Europe! "

I should be wasting the time of the House it' I embarked upon yet another justification of energy conservation. Some of the case is encapsulated in paragraph 2 of the introduction to the report. It has been added to dramatically over the past few weeks by events in America, where the possibility of not being able to keep the energy bonfires burning seems to have induced near panic. The situation in America is symptomatic of what can happen to a nation—in this case admittedly the most profligate consumer of energy the world has ever seen—which fails to take seriously the message of energy conservation (that is to say, its rational and efficient use) and fails to build this factor into its overall energy policy.

Conservation is to a large extent an educational process. It is a difficult, painstaking and long-term process. However, unless it is embarked upon, one gets into the situation in which we now find ourselves, where education has to be packed into an impossibly short time. It is rather like the old Robb Wilton story about the man he found struggling in the canal. " I said to him, I said, ' Can you swim? ' He said, No! ' Well ', I said, Now's the time to learn ' ". That is the position. We have got to learn to swim, until we can develop much more advanced and more dependable sources of energy to support us.

Some countries have taken the need to use energy rationally with much greater seriousness than the United States, but in Europe we can hardly congratulate ourselves. The overall pattern is very varied, and despite all that has been implied to the contrary it is clear that one of the most fruitful areas—the exchange of information in an attempt to raise standards across the Community to those of best practice—has not been pursued with much vigour.

I have never been an anti-Marketeer, but I confess that I am now a disenchanted Marketeer. And in a way it is ironic that I should have been asked to chair the committee's inquiry into energy conservation, because Community efforts in this field illustrate graphically some of the reasons for my disenchantment: bureaucratic delay, lack of initiative and new thinking and misjudgement of priorities. It is understandable that such matters as the approximation of company law in the Community, to which this House addressed itself last week, should, of their very nature, have to move slowly. But energy conservation is not the same sort of thing at all. Time and energy are running out. Every day spent in the bureaucratic dance sees the continuance of the present massive wastage of irreplaceable resources. The subject demands a sense of urgency and a high degree of priority.

In fact, although the Commission acknowledge the vital importance of energy conservation, the precise role which the Community can play is still obscure. Of course, the overwhelming responsibility must lie with national governments, but the Community must also become in- volved because, if energy conservation is to be a significant influence on economic activity, equivalence of effort has to be achieved. What is more, conservation should be a non-controversial subject. In fact, measures taken together should alleviate any impediments to competition and trade which might follow individual action by member-States. If we cannot get together on this, what are our chances of doing so in other more controversial areas, and what time scales are we then considering? Here we are talking simply about the immediate need to share experience and information and to take direct action in limited areas.

In our conclusions, we are critical of the progress, or lack of progress, of the Commission's rational use of energy programme. I believe that our comments are reasonable and necessary. On the other hand, it would be unfair not to point out—and we have done so—that the ultimate responsibility must lie with the Council of Ministers. It is up to them to advance energy conservation and to give the Commission not only the incentive but the specific direction to move rapidly and effectively towards producing and implementing a co-ordinated programme.

It is clear that Ministers have not faced up to this obligation. Not only could they give impetus to the programme but they could also help to overcome national prejudices which often inhibit the Commission when it comes to giving a strong European lead. Officials, given a general policy line, will go away and attempt to design and assemble the machinery to make that policy work. If you leave them to their own devices and forget about them, they will become obsessed with the machine and start taking it to pieces, examining it, reassembling it, making little bits of it move, and generally concentrate on the machine itself rather than its purpose. The Minister—in this case the Council of Ministers—has to make sure that the machine is started up and gets on to the road.

I come now to the committee's appraisal of the present situation, its background and the opinion of the committee. The perception of the need for energy conservation has occurred recently, assuming you consider that December 1974 is recent, for it was following the OPEC price increases of 1973 and 1974 that the Council adopted the Community's rational use of energy programme, with its main objective, and I quote: to reduce the rate of growth of energy consumption in the Community as a whole in order to achieve by 1985 a level of 15 per cent. below the January 1973 estimates ". It has not proved easy to monitor the work of the RUE programme, and a comprehensive list of the measures undertaken is not available in Community publications, although we have included an account of the measures adopted by the Community in Appendix 1 of the report. In the main, the work of the Community has been limited to recommendations for energy conservation in specific areas. As noble Lords will know, recommendations and opinions have no binding force within the Community, and the eight made during 1976 and 1977 make the broadest possible suggestions, without any assessment of the likely benefits or consideration of the problems of cost and enforcement.

In only three specific areas has the Community advanced beyond these general recommendations. In February 1978 a Directive required member-States to set efficiency standards for heat generators in new or existing non-industrial buildings and for the insulation of distribution systems in new non-industrial buildings by 1981. The other two are the draft Directives which form the basis of this report. There is also a regulation, adopted in June 1978, providing for support to projects which demonstrate significant improvements in the efficiency with which energy is used. Thirty-six projects have been selected so far, involving some 21 million European units of account. Nine of these are United Kingdom projects.

The Commission has also tried to carry energy conservation forward through energy research and development, the first four-year programme of which expired on 30th June of this year. The division of the budget of 59 million European units of account does not indicate a very high priority for energy conservation, which was fourth on the list, with less than 20 per cent. of the total budget, after solar energy, production and use of hydrogen, geothermal energy and systems modelling. A second four-year research and development programme was pro- posed in August 1978 and is awaiting adoption by the Council. The upper limit of the budget has been increased to 125 million units of account, but energy conservation, although it has moved up to second place, still has only 20 per cent. of the total funding.

It is a source of bewilderment to me, and I think to other members of the committee, that solar energy is still given priority, with 58 million units of account, which is nearly 50 per cent. of the total budget. I was asked during a " World at One " broadcast last week why the report stated that too much was being spent on solar energy and not enough on energy conservation, particularly in the light of the priority which has been given to solar energy in President Carter's programme. The answer, I believe, is plain.

For a start, there are grounds for questioning the cost-effectiveness of solar energy in the northern latitudes in which most of the Community falls. Then solar energy in large quantities not only involves a long lead-time—President Carter stated that he expected 20 per cent. of the total US energy demand (a figure not everyone might find entirely credible) to come from the solar source by the end of the century—and we must take immediate steps to stop the waste of our existing, finite resources, but it involves also very advanced technology; not just solar panels and so on, but even the development of highly complex space satellites.

Not only do the committee feel that conservation attracts too few resources in terms of money, but the resources in terms of manpower are, we say in the report, " disproportionately small ". Personally I would rather say that they are ludicrously small. Within the Commission, conservation is simply a service within a division within the Directorate for Energy Conservation, Saving and Forecasts, within DG.XVII. No overstaffed bureaucracy here—it has the equivalent of a full-time staff of between three and four people!

To make matters worse, when it comes to the exchange of information as between Member States and the Commission, the contacts have been almost entirely at official level and no attempt has been made to involve organisations such as the United Kingdom Advisory Council on Energy Conservation. Surely it would make more sense, without becoming loaded down with masses of additional committees, to involve some of the special advisory groups.

On the subject of the sharing of experience and information, it is clear that the Community has not established itself as an effective forum for discussion and no attempt has been made, in terms of mandatory measures, fuel pricing policy and the assessment of conservation measures, to draw up a common approach to the major issues which will confront all members of the Community in the short and medium term. Periodic reports describe the technical potential for energy conservation and refer to some of the measures undertaken by Member States, but they lack any critical analysis of the political difficulties involved in implementing policies and they do not attempt to compare the varying programmes of the Member States.

So far as the Commission's power to initiate legislation is concerned, the picture is one of very slow progress and of legislation which does not always relate well to national legislation. A telling piece of evidence which the sub-committee received came from Sir William Hawthorne, the Chairman of the United Kingdom Advisory Council on Energy Conservation. He implied that the EEC Directive on labelling had, if anything, actually delayed the introduction of a United Kingdom labelling requirement.

Mention of Sir William Hawthorne prompts me to say how much the sub-committee appreciated the assistance it received from all those who appeared before it to give evidence—in particular, officials from the Department of Energy, Sir William Hawthorne and his colleagues on the Advisory Council and representatives from the Energy Technology Support Unit and industry—and we were particularly grateful for the informal discussions which we were able to have with senior Commission officials.

Let me turn again, my Lords, to the matter of research and development, where the picture is no more encouraging. The committee looked at three specific aspects of the first four-year programme—its balance, its results and its justification —in considering the impending launch of the second four-year R and D programme.

I have already referred to the fact that solar energy claims nearly 50 per cent. of the budget, but even hydrogen, with an allocation of 15 million units of account, begins to approach the figure reserved for energy conservation. This indicates to us a preoccupation with supporting existing Community facilities—following established paths—and continuing with projects involving hydrogen and fusion, while contributing little in terms of resources or new thinking to energy conservation.

One of our more bizarre discoveries about R and D was that there has not yet been any adequate assessment of the results of the first programme and it seems certain that the second four-year R and D programme will commence without any satisfactory evaluation of the first. We have also been unable to detect any evidence of a close link between the Community's general conservation policy run by DG. XVII and the conservation R and D programme run by DG. XII. We have even quoted in the report one piece of evidence from a member of our own Department of Energy, who announced that he had been—and I quote— trying very hard to have some guidance from the Committee dealing with energy policy in Brussels … to guide the R and Din conservation ". Consequently, we have stressed in our report the vital importance of the relationship between general policy and R and D policy in the demonstration projects programme—in which there appears to be a signal lack of continuity—the existing R and D programme and the proposed second programme.

In brief, my Lords, in looking at conservation as an objective of the energy policy of the Community, we conclude that a satisfactory mechanism for influencing events has yet to be found and that progress since 1974 has been slow, to a large extent because conservation has been given a low priority and limited resources have been allocated to it. We accept that this is a difficult policy area for the Community, but we believe that the Commission has a crucial role to play—particularly in providing a forum for discussion and comparison, which should lead to detailed and critical analysis of the conservation policies of the Nine.

The committee welcome the increase in funding proposed for energy R and D, but we do not believe that a correct balance has been struck and we feel that greater funding should be allocated to energy conservation. We also feel that, so far, the programmes have lacked direction and continuity. Finally, as I have already said, we consider that the ultimate responsibility for promoting the rational-use-of-energy programme and establishing a suitable role for the Community must lie with the Council of Ministers. Only if they act will the programme be pursued and be seen to be pursued in a vigorous and concerted fashion.

My Lords, your committee's report does not present a very encouraging picture. However, there are signs of things stirring in Brussels. I have today been given two recently deposited Commission papers: one on new lines of action in the field of energy saving and the third report on the committee's programme for energy saving. I think they represent some improvement in the scene. Perhaps they are a hopeful sign. It may be, too, that the new American initiative and the urgency which attends their programme will help to stimulate Community activity. I hope that the report of the committee may also play its part in furthering the Community's energy conservation programme. It is intended to be constructive. I hope it may prove to be so. I look forward to hearing at the end of the debate the views of the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, on the success of the programme to date and the role which he considers the Community can play.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, these three reports are most relevant to the current energy problems that face us in Europe, and I am glad that the House has been given the opportunity to debate them before the Recess. We are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for initiating this debate and to both him and to my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis for introducing these reports.

I speak not only from the Opposition Front Bench but also as a member of the Energy Sub-Committee, although I was not a member of that sub-committee when these reports were produced, as I was at that time the Government's energy spokesman in this House during the previous Parliament. If I may, I should like to congratulate the committee on their care and attention to these proposals, and for their lucid and sensible reports. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that it is a matter of regret that two of these reports are only available in proof form, due to an industrial dispute. We are particularly indebted, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has said, to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, for writing the most useful summary of the World Energy Conference Report on Energy Demand and Supply to the Year 2020, which was published as Appendix 2 of the Committee's Report on Energy Objectives. I am sure the whole House is sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, is not able to take part in the debate today, although we are delighted to hear that he is on the road to recovery.

My Lords, the conclusions of the World Energy Conference bear out many of the same conclusions contained in the Labour Government's Green Paper on Energy Policy published last year. It is clear that, unless some more positive action is taken, there will be an energy shortage by about the end of the century, just 20 years away, and this could become an acute crisis by the year 2020. Fusion, as the Select Committee's Fourth Report makes clear in paragraph 22, is unlikely to make a significant contribution to our own energy supplies until some time in the second quarter of the next century at the earliest. The Commission, in their report on Energy Objectives, identify three priority areas; these, of course, are coal, nuclear energy and conservation. We shall certainly need a much greater production of coal in the future to provide fuel burn in order to generate more electricity. And I see from figures just published by the Electricity Council that, due to the shortage of oil, the demand for electricity is nearly eight times as high as in the same period last year, and I am sure this is a trend that is likely to continue. We must also press on to ensure that coal liquefaction and gasification become feasible on an economic scale within the next few decades. May I ask the noble Earl to confirm that there is not going to be any cheeseparing by the Government on R and D expenditure over the whole energy field. I hope that they will take the long view. Otherwise, all their fervently held economic ideas and all those other sacred cows will have little relevance, I am afraid, in what could be a very austere and uncomfortable world. It has been estimated in Appendix 2 that by the year 2020 what remains of oil and natural gas supplies will have to be reserved for premium users. Does the noble Viscount wish to intervene?

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, the noble Lord is very good. Just now he gave us what seemed to me a most interesting and astonishing figure for the increase in demand for electricity. I wonder if he would be kind enough to repeat the figure because I was not sure that I heard it correctly. It did seem to be an astonishing figure.


My Lords, these were figures published the other day in the Press by the Electricity Council; that due to the shortage of oil the demand for electricity is nearly eight times as high as in the same period last year. This is, of course, for central heating.

Hydro-electricity and other renewable sources, such as solar, wind, wave and tidal sources, will probably not be able to supply more than a small percentage of world needs by the end of the century. As the Green Paper makes clear, these are limited by the availability of the right climate and suitable sites, and most of them, except, of course, hydro-electricity, are at a very early stage of development. I noted what my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis said, but I think that the one of the most promising of the renewable sources, for domestic use at any rate, could well be solar energy, as my noble friend Lord Collison reminded us in previous debates from his direct experience. There are, indeed, two articles in today's Guardian about solar energy describing how two enterprising householders, one in South London and the other in Merseyside, have more than halved their electricity bills by using this source. May I ask the noble Earl to let the House have the Government's view on the use of solar energy in this country and what they are doing to encourage its wider use?

But we must face the fact that these are early days yet in the field of renewable sources. We shall soon be faced with the need to decide whether or not to expand nuclear power, and it will be necessary to resolve the important question of nuclear safety. There is also the question of future world supplies of uranium. I think it is not generally recognised that there may well be a uranium famine as well as an oil famine. If thermal reactors alone are used uranium will probably become scarce by the 1990s, and, as the Green Paper recognised, could place restraints on the rate of nuclear power station ordering. With fast reactors the demand for uranium is about one-third lower, so that supplies should be sufficient to last, if one is optimistic, until fusion can take over, if it can, with increased coal production.

On the question of safety, the Report on Energy Objectives says in paragraph 17. There is no such thing as absolute safety and the possibility exists that too much attention will be paid to the risks of nuclear power in comparison with other forms of energy ". Perhaps the Government would care to comment on this.

In their Report on Fusion the Commission stress the need to exploit other Tokamaks and Toroidal devices throughout the Community, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has said, and it is clear that the fusion programmes receive more aid than any other single Community project. The select committee is concerned about the proposal to construct at least one Tokamak machine when construction of the large one at Culham has only just started, and the committee is also concerned about the lack of co-ordination and the danger of overlapping if so large and vitally important a programme is carried out in so many centres. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, would let the House have the Government's view.

The committee consider that much of this expenditure is very large compared with R and D expenditure on the rational use of energy, particularly energy conservation and saving, as my noble friend reminded us. The R and D energy conservation budget itself is also less than 20 per cent. of the total RUE programme budget. Within the Commission, energy conservation is merely a service within a division, within a directorate, with, as my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis has said, only three to four people on the full- time staff. The committee recommend, I think rightly, an increase in staff, and more funding for this poor little departmental Cinderella. Above all, they recommend that the Community should work towards a greater European awareness of the need to save energy.

The Council have already recommended better driving habits, more economical cars and more control over central heating, but much more, surely, will be needed, particularly over the insulation of buildings. In this country the Labour Government planned to continue and develop the " Save It " campaign, and about £8 million had been spent on this campaign by the end of last year. Do the present Administration intend to continue this expenditure, or will it fall a victim to their economy axe? I trust not. It is surely vital that we put as much effort as possible into creating public awareness of the need to save energy.

The Government, I fear, will have to do rather more than asking people to share their cars. What we need is a really intensified campaign as President Carter is putting under way, to drive home to everyone that life will be very bleak indeed within 30 to 40 years—roughly the same period as that since the end of the war—unless we pull ourselves together and begin to save energy now. At the same time, we must plan for the future by increasing coal production, making nuclear energy safer and more acceptable, and by rationalising the fusion programme and making it more effective for the long term—otherwise it will be too late.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful on these Benches to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for bringing about what is a very wide-ranging debate on the three reports put before us today. I am particularly disappointed to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, had to say about the European efforts regarding conservation. It would appear from his remarks that a campaign for conservation is not only not being taken seriously, but it is being grossly underfunded. I hope in my short remarks to be able to tell the House and the noble Lord how perhaps some steps forward can be taken to improve our thoughts, at least, on conservation. However, before doing so I should like to make some more general comments.

The world has reached a stage of industrial development when men and motor cars are inseparable; they even took one to the moon. It is the love affair with the motor car and other engines of comfort and convenience, which in part has brought about this debate today. The other reason is set out starkly on Page XVI of the 21st Report of the Select Committee which says: It is clear that non-renewable conventional energy (oil, gas, coal and nuclear) cannot meet world needs at the end of the century ". In view of that inescapable conclusion, regardless of the growth rate of the future—be it zero per cent. or 3.9 per cent. as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield—man may well be divorced permanently from the motor car by the turn of the century, and world industrial development may be seriously curtailed or cease altogether; that is, unless a major conservation programme, such as is outlined in the Third Report on Energy Conservation, is fully implemented, and all countries pursue a flexible and multiple approach to their energy policies. Such policies will have to include a nuclear element—as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—subject, of course, to adequate safeguards to the public and society in general. The same must also apply to alternative energy strategies, which will have a vital role to play in the future, subject in this case to adequate safeguards to the environment. Whatever the source of energy supply to replace the oil and uranium deficits, it is clear from the Fourth Report, entitled Fusion, that the world must be moving towards an all-electric society by 2030, if present ways of life are to continue and the opportunity remains for developing countries to develop industrially.

The main report on Energy Objectives for 1990 has been very careful to point out that it is using a broad brush approach. The figures can, therefore, only be seen as indications of the energy situation predicted in Europe by the turn of the century. One basic assumption has been made, however, which could throw all these figures out of the window, if it is proved incorrect.

The Select Committee may have assumed, too optimistically, that, during the next 20 years there will be a regular and uninterrupted supply of imported oil from the producer countries. The figures and conclusions, depressing as they are, will be seriously worsened if there are interruptions in supply due to political upheavals in producer countries or States or a change of policy by OPEC for one reason or another. It is far too optimistic to imagine that those interruptions will not occur over a period as long as 20 years covered by the Commission's report. Therefore, I believe that it is only right that we look very closely at the social and political implications of an interrupted supply during this period and how it could affect the figures in the tables shown on pages X and XI.

Those figures show that the net imports for Europe as a whole still exceed 50 per cent. by 1990 and, therefore, emphasise the vulnerability of all the EEC countries, except perhaps our own—the United Kingdom. Assuming, therefore, that there will be interruptions in supply, what should be given the main priority to maintain the way of life and the minimum dislocation of a sophisticated urban society in which the majority of Europeans are living today? Recent events in Iran, which disrupted the supply of imported energy to the whole industrialised world, gave a timely reminder of things that may be to come. We should be thankful that this has allowed the Western world to rethink its energy requirements for the future. The question is: Can we learn from this lesson in time? I should be grateful if the noble Earl in his reply could perhaps give an indication of how our own Government would react if these supplies are interrupted again.

It depressed me to know that when we had this crisis a few months ago the public systems of transport, especially the railways, were curtailed at the same time as motorists were curtailed. I think that we must think again about what is to happen because this situation will occur again. Are we doing enough, for instance, to electrify the railway programme faster than has been done up to now? Are the Government thinking in terms of the not too distant future when the motor-buses, diesel driven as they are, will have to be replaced by some electrical form of propulsion? Is enough being spent on research and development re- garding the electric motor car and delivery van facilities? I hope that the Government can give an indication as regards these matters because I, at least, was left with the impression that the country was caught short at a time of need. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could refresh my memory as to why motorists on the Continent were able to get petrol at their petrol stations, but we in this country were not able to do so. Perhaps he can think about that matter and give us an answer when he winds up the debate.

I turn to conservation. The so-called "energy crisis" is a crisis of consumption, not of supply. Therefore, it is only by putting into operation a European conservation programme with the same rate of funding and priority as is put into the expansion of energy producing industries, that the required economies can be achieved. The consequence of an effective conservation policy can do more for society in Europe than increased energy production can ever do, simply because of the limitations of the world's finite energy resources.

The areas where conservation can be most effective is in alternative energy strategies and the substitutions that can be made by them, and I shall touch on those later. However, there is another point which has so far not been mentioned and which will need to be clarified, in my view, before an effective conservation policy can even begin to be implemented. I refer particularly to the number of expressions of energy units used in all energy conversion tables, including those printed in the main report on Energy Objectives. An example of this appears in the minutes of evidence given by Dr. Richard Eden, who pointed to a 5 per cent. difference in value of the basic unit: one tonne of oil equivalent. That was due to the various interpretations given in different countries. Not wishing to go into the details of this particular criticism, I would prefer to make a much more general one on the basis that all consumers of energy do not know how much energy in real terms they are using because of the different sources of energy available, and because of the different units of measurement required for payment.

I am suggesting that a European conservation programme should be based in future on a single unit of energy, which is used in all forms of energy conversion, tariffs and even the labelling of appliances. I believe it must be an improvement on the Euro-oven, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, referred, which was the result of four years' work. This is a hopeless approach and demonstrates how conservation is not being taken seriously by the European Governments. It is an example that should be waved in front of them.

If I may be permitted, I should like to continue with some remarks about the energy unit. The most obvious candidate for this purpose is the joule, named after James Prescott Joule, which is now universally recognised as the unit of energy, work, or quantity of heat. Noble Lords will no doubt recall that one joule equals the amount of energy delivered by one watt of power in one second of time. The joule is accepted by scientists as being the correct unit for energy. As a result of an article published as long ago as 1972 in Science Weekly, Mr. Bruce B. Barrow of the Technical Activities Board, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, had this to say: Today the only internationally acceptable unit of energy is the joule. The practice of using different units to measure mechanical energy, electrical energy and thermal energy is obsolete, and both the British thermal unit and the calorie should be avoided in technical writing. Likewise, there is only one acceptable unit for power or heat transfer, the watt (or joule per second). When energy and power are expressed in joules and watts respectively, many hidden relationships immediately become obvious ". Those hidden relationships are most important for the purposes of labelling, such as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. Because it can be seen by the user of a domestic appliance, which is the example the noble Lord gave, the user is enabled accurately to gauge the efficiency of the appliance and the amount of energy which is used. For instance, if an electric oven, to which I have referred, was given a joule rating of I to 3, it would indicate to the consumer that he would get 300 watts of heat for 100 watts of power. Without such information, it would be virtually impossible to distinguish between an efficient oven and an inefficient one.

Therefore, the appropriate economies upon which a conservation policy must depend are almost impossible to achieve, simply because we do not have a unit of energy that is understood by everybody. The " Save It " campaign has been I mentioned. Exhortation is fine, but how can we expect people to save energy when they do not know how energy-efficient their machines are. That is why I believe that before we even get down to labelling, we must go one stage further and educate the adult public of today and the children and grandchildren of tomorrow as to how to assess energy-use in terms of the machinery and heating which they have all around them.

It would appear from the report that there is no provision of funds for an education programme, which was again referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. It will not be cheap to educate people about energy, and anyone who thinks it will be has made a mistake. Yet no funds have been put aside for it. Again, it would appear that there has been no mention of an educational programme that goes right through to the schools.

I do not see why this redefinition should he confined merely to electrical appliances. In my view it could be applied—if we are talking about the joule—to all domestic tariffs and even include the rating of motor-cars. The present horsepower and cubic capacity rating give no indication at all of a vehicle's efficiency in energy conservation terms. In his reply perhaps the Minister could indicate whether the Government will press the Select Committee on the European Communities to allow for the extra cost involved to be incorporated in future budgeting. Will Her Majesty's Government also indicate whether the committee consulted the Système Internationale des Unites, commonly known as the SI, for advice as to what energy unit should be chosen. It would seem that the committee may need some guidance in this area and some stimulus, because I am sure that the SI would approve of the use of the joule as the basic unit of energy for Europe for the future. I am not clear these days what the Metrication Board is doing, but perhaps its energies could be more suitably and profitably diverted towards an energy conservation programme, along the lines mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, and myself in search of a basic energy unit.

I should like to say a few words about alternative energy strategies—to which all speakers have referred—including wind and solar energy, which are the most commonly quoted alternative energy strategies. I am a sponsor of the Parliamentary Liaison Group for Alternative Energy Strategies, and I must repeat that there is a myth that alternative sources of energy have no real relevance to an energy debate or to the saving of energy. Many people have said in this House and in another place that the contribution of alternative energy strategies will be minimal. I strongly disagree with that view: first, because the papers written to date—and a great many papers have been written, but very few prototypes on alternative energy have been produced—have mainly been hostile and there is, therefore, a need to produce working prototypes of aero-generators, solar panels and so on which can be adequately tested, even in this country. For what it is worth, my view is that aero-generators should be tested in the upper atmosphere—in the atmospheric jet stream where there is a permanent wind—at 30,000 feet. It is also my belief that the solar panels should be put where the sun is, outside the earth's atmosphere. However, these trials or prototypes will cost a great deal of money and involve much research and development. However, until these things have been made or manufactured up to prototype state, no one can judge whether they will make a contribution or the necessary contribution to the shortfalls in energy that are being predicted.

I have been told that, although there are funds for alternative energy strategies or inventions, very few inventions of any practical nature have been put forward. I happen to know that there is in existence an external combustion engine which, using multi-purpose fuel, is quite capable of replacing the internal combustion engine by the turn of the century. Many experiments are taking place on electrical vehicles by small and private companies, including my own, and here I declare an interest. Many individuals have the wherewithal in terms of knowledge, but they have no idea how to approach the Government or the Government agencies for funds: often only a few thousand pounds are needed to produce something that can be presented and discussed at a much bigger and wider meeting. I hope that in his reply the Minister will be able to give us an indication as to the area of Government, which these people in this country, who have the technological ideas of alternative energy strategies, should approach to ask for advice and funds.

In conclusion, I have attempted to show the vulnerability of the urban industrial societies in Europe, which are currently powered from external energy supplies and which have a high internal energy consumption. Market forces are assumed to provide a number of the solutions to cutting down on consumption throughout the world. Although we must agree that that is a sensible and practical approach, we must not forget that market forces will seriously affect the industrial aspirations of the non-industrial societies of the developing world. The less developed countries may not have the options open to them that allowed Western societies to go through their industrial revolutions. In my view, this factor alone could tempt some of the less developed countries actively to interfere with the supply of oil to Europe and the United States during the next 20 years, on the basis that they will not have the benefits or the opportunities that were available to us here in the West.

It must be remembered that great countries like India and China, representing a large percentage of the world population, are attempting to make the very difficult transition from a feudal to an industrial society. If this process is interfered with due to over-consumption of energy by the industrialised countries, or through failure of their conservation policies, then the future is very dark indeed. In fact, those commentators who are already talking about the dawn of the post-industrial age by the year 2030 may be proved right after all.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, we must all be most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Sherfield and Lord Lovell-Davis, for drawing our attention to these three reports, all of which are important in their own right. Perhaps I regret, in a way, that we could not have had separate debates on them. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the first two sets of Commission communications—that is to say, those on Energy Objectives for 1990 and those on Energy Conservation—have not yet been debated in the European Parliament, due, no doubt, partly to direct elections. On these subjects, therefore, your Lordships are ahead of our colleagues in the European Parliament.

When I think how long it took in the early years of Community membership to catch up on the backlog of Commission communications, I think that this is a satisfactory situation for your Lordships to be in, and it should also be an advantage to our new Members in the European Parliament when they come to debate these subjects in, I suppose, the autumn or winter. In this way they will at least know Her Majesty's Government's views on these subjects from my noble friend Lord Gowrie, the Government spokesman, because he will, I hope, have told us the Government's views. Of course other noble Lords on all sides of the House will also have made important contributions, because all of them without exception are very well qualified to express their views on these questions. Therefore, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for having managed to time the publication of these reports so appropriately.

In regard to fusion, this is of course a subject which has been much debated both in committees in Brussels and in plenary session. I was indeed responsible for presenting the Budget Committee's opinion on the fusion proposals, as well as discussing them as a member of the Parliament's Energy Committee. I am also glad to have had the opportunity of giving my views on this subject to Lord Sherfield's sub-committee, which I have had the honour of joining.

To take the first report, that on energy objectives, I agree broadly with the opinion of the committee, starting at paragraph 16, and I do not wish either in this case or on the other two reports to repeat too much of what I said on Lord Strabolgi's Motion on 4th July, except to say—and I think it must be repeated—that the energy situation in Europe, and indeed in the free world as a whole, gives cause for considerable concern. The cut-back in oil supplies from Iran, the failure of the West to develop nuclear energy at the rate anticipated, the continuing question-mark over United States energy policy despite President Carter's recent statements, can all lead to the conclusion that even assuming increased Saudi oil production there could well be an oil shortage in the West of some ten million barrels a day by 1990.

Also, as I said on 4th July—and this is the only repetition I shall make, and it was a view which was happily supported by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, opposite—even assuming increased nuclear capacity, nuclear power cannot at present drive your Lordships' Rolls-Royce or executive aircraft—in the very unlikely event of your Lordships having one! I go along very much with the Select Committee's suggestion that the Commission could usefully study the comparative risks involved in the different forms of energy. This has of course already been done by various bodies but I think they could well look at it again. I agree with other noble Lords who have said that there is no such thing as absolute safety, and that is also said in the committee's report. I agree too that much as we deplore the loss of life in an explosion at Aldermaston this afternoon—I gather that fortunately no radioactive substance is involved—too much attention may none the less be paid to the risks of nuclear power in comparison with other forms of energy, and indeed other forms of human activity. I am certain that, since the publication of the Select Committee's report in April this year, the Commission must have given considerable attention to this question of risks and must have concluded that we should continue to expand nuclear power.


My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to intervene? Who does he think is the arbiter in this question of whether too much attention is given to the matter of nuclear risks? Is it not the people of the European nations who should have the final word on this through elected representatives, and through public inquiries in which they can fully participate?


My Lords, I think that the risks can be judged by the figures given by Lord Rothschild in his recent lecture, and also by the figures (perhaps even more important) given by the Commission on environmental pollution. As a matter of fact I have also given some figures in this book on Energy for Europe, which I and my colleagues in the last European Parliament produced. I should like to draw Lord Avebury's attention to those figures. It seems to me that the risks have been fairly clearly stated by these responsible bodies.

I also see the point of the committee's comment about the critical areas of uncertainty in regard to annual economic growth in the Community, which may be too high—despite the fact that the latest figure is even higher, I gather, from the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, at 3.9 per cent.—and that the predicted expansion of nuclear capacity may be too optimistic. I might add here, however, that the observations in regard to economic growth, and even perhaps nuclear power, may perhaps recently have been more applicable to Britain than to France and Germany.

I am certain that the Energy Commissioner, Herr Guido Brunner, and indeed members of the Energy Council, must by now have taken full account of the committee's hope in paragraph 20 that the Community's energy policy should be conducted with a greater degree of coherence and urgency. With the committee, I also hope that the United Kingdom, as by far the largest producer of primary energy, will take the lead in the Council of Ministers in formulating an effective policy for the 1980s and beyond. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gowrie will urge his right honourable friend to take this lead when he attends these Council meetings.

It is indeed true that, apart from a relatively modest, if not negligible, common research and development policy, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, in conservation, the use of hydrogen, solar and geothermal energy and systems modelling and, of course, the more massive joint research programme on thermo-nuclear fusion, no true Community energy policy has yet emerged. I should like to see a Community energy policy developed, having perhaps learned from the less happy aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Moreover, the Community should certainly concentrate not only on objectives and forecasts, but also on the success and failure of national policies and on the means of improving them. As to conservation, or rational use of energy—RUE, as it is called—I agree that perhaps this has been given too low a priority. If your Lordships will forgive the obvious pun, do not let us rue the day for not having done so! No doubt the Energy and Research Commissioner, Herr Brunner, will be looking into the question of expanding the relevant division or creating a new directorate on its own account; I do not know whether this will be within DGl7 or DG12 or whether it might bridge both, which it perhaps should, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Gowrie will look at this carefully with is right honourable friend.

There can be occasions in my view, despite our unhappy experiences over the Common Agricultural Policy, when increased Community expenditure and perhaps reduced national expenditure can he beneficial in avoiding unnecessary duplication. Again, however, let me say that in evolving a CEP we must learn the lessons of the CAP. Also a detailed critical analysis of the conservation policies of the Nine would certainly be useful, and it is no doubt possible that the Community might be able to do this more effectively than the International Energy Agency in Paris. But as the report indicates, the responsibility on all these questions, as other noble Lords have said, must in the end be with the Council of Ministers, and I hope that our new Secretary of State for Energy will play a leading role in the Council.

In regard to fusion, I am glad that in paragraph 15 the committee have noted the desirability, which I strongly stressed in the European Parliament, of bringing together the whole fusion effort under one budget. The present situation certainly lacks clarity from the budgetary point of view and I hope that our new directly elected Members in the committees on budgets and energy will continue to pursue this point. There is no doubt that the fusion programme is large and ambitious with possibly large and ambitious extensions. It is evident that as the projects are likely to continue for several decades a disciplined attitude towards staffing and financing will be called for. Co-ordination, in my view, must be more effective than it has perhaps so far been so that overlapping can be avoided as far as possible.

I understand from Lord Sherfield that the Community's Council of Research Ministers, which was to he asked to approve the fusion programme in principle on 26th June, will now be meeting only in October or November. Energy and research Ministers should therefore have ample time to consider your Lordships' very wise comments and perhaps those of the new Members of the European Parliament. I hope too that Ministers will give serious consideration to the question of priorities and the proportion of the effort to be deployed on alternative energy sources

I concur, despite the enthusiasm of the European Parliament, that the resources allocated to fusion should be looked at more precisely in the wider context of other alternative sources such as those which have already been mentioned today—solar, wind and wave, and I would mention tidal, even hydraulic energy and particularly, for example, the project concerning the Severn barrage where Her Majesty's Government have agreed and financed feasibility studies. I would be interested to know if my noble friend has any information in regard to progress on those feasibility studies, and to know what progress has been made with the four wave power projects also sponsored by the Government. I might also ask my noble friend whether he thinks that Community funds might ultimately be used to support these projects through perhaps the Ortoli Facility or the European Investment Bank.

In conclusion, I believe that the Community must exploit its abundant coal reserves, including the liquefaction and gasification of coal; it must search for and exploit existing and new sources of oil and natural gas; it must maximise the use of nuclear power and, as I have said, hydraulic power, which after all provides 23 per cent. of the world's electricity, even if the percentage in Europe is much lower; and it must identify indigenous sources of uranium and seek all reasonable and economic means to conserve energy. As I said in my farewell speech to the European Parliament, the destiny of the Community could well be decided by Europe's determination to forge an effective energy policy.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for bringing this Motion forward today, so enabling us to take notice of and debate the three reports which we have all prepared under his very able and competent chairmanship, and the report of the working party under the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. It has been a great pleasure to work under both of them as my chairmen and, together with the three reports, I must pay tribute to the booklet which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, which he and his European parliamentary friends prepared in the last parliamentary Session. It is an admirable compendium of relevant facts and statistics which I read and studied with the greatest of interest.

I should refer to the pleasure with which I listened to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, the pleasure one always has in encountering Saul among the Prophets because many a time have I prodded him as I shall of course be prodding the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in due course—into stopping playing hide and seek between the Government and the CEGB with regard to the safety of fast reactors, the CEGB saying, " We will not order one until we know it is safe " and the Government saying, " We will not set up an inquiry until they have ordered a reactor ". That really must be stopped.

The contribution I wish to make to the debate is to pick up a point which was referred to by Lord Sherfield about the difference between Britain and France—the difference between feeling and intellect—the difference between our tenderness towards the environmentalists and their ruthlessness in clobbering them if they get in the way. In a certain sense I would say I was an environmentalist, but not in the obsessional or panicky sense. I try to keep my environmentalism in perspective by thinking of what happens when I fly. I go up into the air and as I rise I see more and more of England until there is nothing underneath me except England, until I cross the Border and get to Scotland. As I go on, the works of man become smaller and smaller until they fade almost into nothingness, and one is left with a great pattern of green fields and forest and moorland underneath one, every acre of it a human artefact, every acre something that man has determined should look as it does, instead of as nature determined.

When we talk about the natural environment in Britain, we should think of Britain as covered in forest and scrub; even our moorland would be covered with scrub, impenetrable scrub through which one could not find a way. What we call the landscape is, with the exception of the Chalk Downs, what we have made. The Chalk Downs are the natural highway through England because the short turf over the chalk does not permit the sort of heavy vegetation one otherwise gets. But where the chalk is overlaid by clay with flints or some glacier drift, there one gets admirable soil for beech trees and the beech masts kill the scrubby vegetation and one gets beautiful places like Burnham Beeches and the hills outside High Wycombe which are such a pleasure to motor through when on one's way to Oxford.

I have been sitting for a month on the Dartmoor Commons Bill, an opposed Private Bill, the Committee stage of which has finally been brought to a close recently, and there I have been listening to all the arguments about environmentalism in relation to Dartmoor and how Dartmoor itself is an artefact, made by the pastoralists who go in for rough grazing. Without the sheep on Dartmoor and the shepherds who look after them and the farmers who maintain them it would revert to scrub, except for the blanket bog on top where nothing at all would grow.

What man can make, man can unmake, or remake or of course conserve, but when we talk of conservation, we are talking of conserving what it happens to be fashionable to admire in this day and age. If you think back in time, Pope and Dryden, in the context of landscapes, would have thought of forest glades and murmuring fountains and the nymphs that went with them, where Dr. Johnson would have preferred formal gardens. With Wordsworth we enter the romantic age with its dramatic landscape of crags and caverns and precipices and foaming torrents, and so on. Now in relation to the rather constricted life that we lead in cities and in the industrial environments we tend to admire the wide-rolling moorlands and the estuarine mudscapes where the breeding birds allow themselves to be seen as a sort of beginners' study, a first course for the ornithologists. But if ornithology became a little more sophisticated and people became interested in listening to birds rather than looking at them, the forest glades would come back and we would be interested in the songs of the warblers rather than the antics of the waders.

The unprecedented developments of the last century, and of the first half of this century, have made very little mark on this landscape. One can scarcely see it if one flies high enough. But such marks as have been made have been concentrated into a few places where they strike one as highly objectionable, though I think probably they can be rectified. There are the south-eastern approaches to Swansea—a terrible squalor of deserted lead mines and zinc mines. There are the old ruined tin mines of Cornwall—and these go back not to the last century, but to the 18th century and earlier. There is the wasteland of old worked-out drift mines, opencast mines and so on lying between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. There are the slag heaps and the coal tips of the industrial North. But none of these is being repeated in this day and age. On the contrary, they are being cleared away. If one drives along the motorway from Edinburgh to Glasgow, when one comes to Broxburn, with the slag tips of the old Scottish shale oil industry, one sees that those slag tips are being slowly dismantled in order to make aggregate for the concrete of which the Scottish motorways will he made. So we are slowly dismantling the damage that we wrought to our countryside locally in the last century.

I am told that in America the price of learning how to farm a new continent was this. They ruined about 1 per cent. of their land, and they damaged about 10 per cent., most of which is recoverable. If anyone thinks that very serious, I invite him to stand as I have stood on the edge of the painted desert and see what nature, unassisted by man, has done to the landscape by turning it into a complete wilderness of pulley erosion, beautiful only because most strangely the iron in the rocks has been oxidized until it is the colour of the very brightest lipstick.

I have been birdwatching many a time under the shadow of Sizewell A nuclear power station, and I assure your Lordships that while birds do not mind nuclear power stations, the one thing to which they object is bird watchers. This is what scares the birds away. My old friend—we were at school together—the late James Fisher, the very popular ornithologist, always told me that nobody had seriously tackled the problem of shifting populations of wild animals away from habitats that might be threatened. In the context, for instance, of the brent geese which nest on the Essex coast and the Thames Estuary he told me that he was quite sure that by a determined effort the brent geese which occupy only a portion of the potential habitat open to them could be shifted eastward in order to make room for an airport without any damage to the brent geese at all. One would merely have to control their Western boundary and interrupt them a sufficient number of times with human beings, and they would shift further East and conservation would be achieved.

I think that your Lordships know that my interest in life is not writing essays about crises, nor reading essays about crises, but going to the spot where the crisis is, talking to the men on the spot, coming back and perhaps telling your Lordships about it. I did that with Dounreay some years ago. A fortnight ago today I was up at Westfield in Fife, which has the largest open-cast mine in Europe, the biggest man-made hole in Europe. I went there to see how the environment is being restored. They really made a wonderful job of it. Starting with 800 acres, most of it bog, they will end up with 500 acres, all of it good pasture land, and a hole which will serve as the rubbish tips of Edinburgh and Fife for at least a century to come. They have won a very large amount of coal out of it, though it is coming to the end of its days.

While I was there I found out how serious is the environmental threat to our prospects of winning coal. In the last 23 years there were for the first 20 of them 19 environmental inquiries into open-cast mining. During the last three years there have been 24. Counter-attack by the environmentalist on the energy supplier has gone up by a factor of eight; and this is something that needs watching very carefully indeed. It is said that the inquiry into the Belvoir mine will take three years. Why, my Lords? What is going to emerge in the last two and a half years that will not emerge in the first six months? How long will an environmental inquiry into the hazards of the fast reactor take?

Harrisburg was of course a gift to the environmentalist. But lest your Lordships might put it in the wrong perspective, I should like to read to your Lordships what I said on 1st February 18 months ago on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in which I was carrying out a sort of general review. Dealing with the pressurised water reactor, I said, as reported at columns 792–3 of the Official Report: Many of these American reactors are now operating all over the world, some of them in unskilled hands. Sooner or later a mistake will be made and what is fashionable to call an incident will occur. Because of past history, that incident will be blamed on the design. Then all past history will be resurrected and there will be a public demand to shut down those PWRs. Do we want to have our PWRs shut down? That was in the context of the proposal to order a PWR for this country at a time when two AGRs were being ordered.

So you see, my Lords, it is not a question of being wise after the event. I said that this was going to happen. I said that the reactor would go into unskilled hands and that anything might happen then. Am I going to say that American hands are unskilled? After all, they designed the reactor and they have operated many of them. Well, my Lords, Yes, I am going to say that because I have noticed in America that when everything gets into routine production it is reorganised with one eye on the cost accounts in such a way that every component job in the task is broken down into units, each of which can be managed by someone with the minimum requisite intelligence, costing the minimum amount of the almighty dollar necessary for the job, so that if anything goes wrong the result is that nobody knows what is going on and nobody can cope with it; and that is exactly what happened at Harrisburg.

Just as naughty boys tied tin cans to the tails of dogs—which is a very horrid thing to do—so in my unregenerate youth I used to tease American hotel organisations by inventing situations with which they could not cope. One of the ploys that I found most rewarding was to launch a new piece of banana peel before they had recovered staggering from the first one, and this really brought the entire organisation to a standstill, just as happened in Harrisburg. I could have predicted—and did predict—the whole thing and the course of all those events. Nobody knew what was going on. Nobody knew what to do. Nobody had the overall picture!

Notwithstanding all I have said, Never was heard such a terrible curse. But what gave rise To no little surprise Was that nobody seemed a penny the worse Nobody was hurt. Nobody was killed. Nobody received a serious overdose of radiation. Everybody got into a panic, the population was moved out, and so on. But the keep of the reactor was designed to withstand the type of accident that took place, and it withstood it. I see no reason to suppose that anything we design will be any different.

I think the situation is serious. I do not believe it can be coped with by essay writing. The shortage of fuel is a delightful subject about which to write essays, but anybody who is tempted to write essays should be made to take a cold bath in the morning until he is reminded that life is earnest; and he should be given a spade and told, as a good environmentalist, to use the spade to cover up some of the rubbish of the last century instead of objecting to the rubbish which he thinks is going to be created in this century. The year 2000 is not a long way away. It is very easy to say, " Of course, that will not concern me ", but I have something between a 5 and 10 per cent. chance that in the year 2,000 I shall be the same age as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, two years younger than the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, or the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and three years younger than the noble Lord, Lord Rathcaven. I cannot look upon odds of only between 5 and 10 per cent. as something I can altogether disregard. I may, with others, be cold, hungry and unhappy in old age, and my concern is to see that that does not happen if I can possibly do anything to prevent it.

My Lords, I am going to close—and I am sorry I have gone on for more than my 10 minutes—with a warning which I am sure I shall repeat again even if I have not said it before. One of our human failings is that we run away from imaginary dangers into the jaws of real ones. The imaginary danger is that a nuclear station or reactor is going to go off like a bomb: the real danger is that, by running away from the imaginary ones, we shall lag in the steady progressive development of our nuclear stations, so that when we finally realise that we have no alternative we shall build a very large number of stations in a panic, and then, very likely, incidents will happen. That, my Lords, is the danger against which I wish to warn your Lordships' House.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, it has rarely fallen to any man to have a more difficult task than to follow the noble Earl who has just sat down, so I think I had better confine my remarks to one particular topic. I want to remind your Lordships that when we speak of our own nuclear programme, and even of the programme of Europe, we should remember that it is only a pale reflection of the enormously bigger programme in the United States. Nearly all the world's nuclear power stations are either in America or were built by Americans and sold abroad, or have been built in Europe to American designs. It is extremely important, therefore, to realise that the industry, which was probably the biggest of its kind ever to have existed in the history of the world, has suddenly and almost completely collapsed in the last three or four years. In 1972, I think I am right in saying, something like 50 nuclear power stations were ordered. Last year, the scale on my graph is so small I cannot tell whether it was one or two. This is a most dramatic collapse, and I think it acutely important that we should realise that the troubles which beset us and our commercial opportunities in the nuclear reactor business are all determined by the vast growth and the totally unprecedented collapse of the American industry which we have observed in the last couple of decades.

Now is not the time to repeat the story of nuclear power, but I think it worth reminding your Lordships that it was only in 1942 that the very first pile was ever made in America, in Chicago, by Fermi, and in 1946—and this is what I really wanted to say—he initiated the programme which seems to me to be dominating the world to this day. I want to persuade your Lordships, if I can, that the time has come to reconsider what I can call the original Fermi programme, which I shall explain in a moment.

I am inspired to suggest this to your Lordships because I have been looking into the general question of the reliability and the performance of the world's reactors. I have the figures for the two years ending on 31st December last year, 1978, and on 31st December the preceding year; that is, 1977. The list to which I am referring includes all the world's reactors of more than 500 megawatts which were in service on the day on which the list was compiled. There were 82 of them 18 months ago, and they were tabulated in order of performance; that is to say, reliability. Of the first eight, one was American, one was German, one was Japanese and five were Canadian. Last year—that is, up to the beginning of this last January—another dozen reactors had been added. Out of the first 10 reactors, six were Canadian and most of the others were American, Japanese and German. Our own reactors appeared in the list effectively for the first time. All three were in the bottom 10 out of the 92 reactors then in operation in the world. I felt that here was a problem which needed analysis and which should be drawn urgently to the attention of the Government. If the Minister would care, I can let him have copies of all the relevant papers.

The point is that while the Americans' main power stations were developed as a result of the work inspired by Admiral Rickover, who wanted to get nuclear-powered submarines and produced the first effective portable station, the PWR and the boiling water reaction were both copied from Rickover-inspired designs. The Canadians went ahead and developed a design of their own. I spent a lot of time last year unsuccessfully trying to persuade members of our own Department of Energy and members of the GEC to go and look at it. I am afraid I failed. In fact, I went so far as to bring over to this country the physicist who had been primarily responsible for the Canadian work, but I failed to persuade the Ministry to see him when he was here.

However, there is the most reliable reactor to be found anywhere in the world, and it is the one reactor which no one in this country is prepared to take the slightest interest in at this moment. I have figures for the performance of all the big reactors over a period of years, and it turns out that the boiling water and pressurised water reactors are both about the same, at about 60 to 65 per cent. Our own gas-cooled reactor is about 45 per cent.; and the Canadian is about 86 per cent.—enormously better than any other reactor in the world.

I want to urge upon the Government that they should seriously look into the possibility of collaborating with the Canadians and developing reactors which are demonstrably so much better than any others currently in production anywhere in the world. I have been to see them myself. They are really most remarkable. They work, people take it for granted that they will work, and they go on working.

Another point of some interest is that, in the whole history of reactor development, five reactors and the associated electrical gear have been finished ahead of schedule. Most reactors, of course, are one, two, or even five years late, as we know to our cost, but five have been finished ahead of schedule, and three of them are Canadian. This is an extraordinary achievement for a relatively small country whose industry is not really so tremendously sophisticated. Furthermore—and this is acutely important—they have been able to make the whole thing for themselves.

If we buy the pressure water reactor we shall have to buy with it enormous welded steel tanks into which they have to be put because we are not able to make them ourselves. The great snag about the AGRs that we have built has been the enormous amount of work which is done on site. The Canadians build their reactors in the factory and assemble on site. That is why their power stations are finished on schedule and why they work so well.

The Ontario hydro people have done a comparison between the Pickering station and the coal-fired station of about the same power at Lampton. They reckon that the cost of electricity from Pickering is about half the cost of that from Lampton. Furthermore the actual cost of Pickering was about 750 million dollars and it has already saved them 1,200 million dollars worth of coal which they would have had to buy from the United States. Already, since it was built about six years ago, this nuclear station has saved 50 per cent. More than the total cost in coal. And if they had bought the coal and burned it. what would the resulting fumes have done to the atmosphere of the district around the power station? This is an extraordinary story. It is true to say that the price of power generated from the nuclear power stations in Canada is less in real terms than the price of electrical power before the war when it came from Niagara. I tell your Lordships this because I believe this to be so remarkable that it should be better known in this country. It is a very remarkable achievement of a small country which should be properly appreciated. That is the first point. I think therefore that the opportunity for collaboration in building this type of reactor is very much better than the possibilities of building the pressurised water reactor. Your Lordships will remember that we were persuaded to build one in this country in the expectation that we should be able to share the world market for pressurised water reactors with the Americans. Since the market has disappeared and there is an enormous unusable capacity for building these in the States, our chances of selling them abroad are zero. The chance of making a commercial success of the pressurised water reactor is nil. The chance of making any sort of success with the gas-cooled reactor, which is the least reliable reactor in production in the world, seems little better. I feel that it would be well if the Government contemplated the possibility of collaboration with the Canadians.

Now I should like to pass on to an even more important point. The Canadian reactor is, in certain fundamental ways, quite unlike anything else in the world. First, it uses heavy water, and the Canadians make their own and, indeed, have a surplus that they would like to sell. It is so designed that the fuel can be burnt up much more completely than in any other reactor that I know of. In fact the spent fuel which emerges has so little useful radioactive material in it, so little plutonium and so little uranium, that under no circumstances would it pay to process it. The Canadians do not need anything like Windscale. They leave their spent fuel in big tanks about the size of this Chamber and it lies there peacefully, glowing quietly, and it is perfectly safe for the next 100 years or so when the tank will be full; after which they will take it out, coat it with plastic and bury it somewhere else in a water tank. They have no anxieties about processing nuclear fuels. The real problem about Windscale is that once you take out the fuel which has been burned up and cut open the cans and try to treat the stuff chemically, it becomes dangerous in case any of the radioactivity gets into what I call the human food chain or exposes people to the risk of radiation. By leaving it in the cans, as the Canadians do, it is safe.

I ask myself why, if this is so, cannot we carry out the same process? The answer is a curious technical fact that our own advanced gas-cooled reactors use stainless steel in the cans and this will not last for as long as the zirconium cans which are used in Canada. The Canadians can leave their cans indefinitely. The next point is this. It is possible to develop this reactor to enable it to burn thorium. The amount of thorium in the world is much greater than the amount of uranium. I would like to mention one fact. There is not such a shortage of uranium as one may think. The amount of uranium in the sea water which is used to cool the nuclear reactor in a submarine is greater than the total amount of uranium which is burned in the reactor at the same time. There is uranium in large quantities to be had and it is not impossibly expensive to extract it. It is possible to develop the CANDU reactor and to burn thorium in it and also it is possible to improve it by using organic liquids to cool it which will improve the temperature of the steam, make it more compact and cheaper.

It is the view of the Canadian who was responsible for most of this work and who developed it in the first place, that if such reactors were developed, and thorium were used as the primary fuel, the world would have enough electric power to satisfy its reasonable needs for several hundred years, perhaps for thousands of years. There are enormous quanties of thorium to be had. If we had such a system in this country, then we should not need Windscale.

Any inquiry into our present system of nuclear power ends up by saying that we need it all because it was designed originally that we should have it all. When I tried to give evidence to Mr. Justice Parker's Committee on Windscale I was quite properly told that the evidence I wanted to give was not within his terms of reference. I did not want to tell him that Windscale was unnecessary but that the type of reactor which made Windscale necessary was wrong. If you have the type of reactor that we have, and you have enough spent fuel which must be processed, then you must have a Windscale. When you have a Windscale you get plutonium running out of your ears and you need a breeder reactor. But burning this in the breeder reactor is still dangerous. When Fermi first suggested it, he said that this will be more difficult and dangerous to develop than the ordinary reactor that we are now talking about.

By 1970 the Americans had convinced themselves that the breeders were coining, that by 1980 the ordinary reactor would be virtually obsolete and that the breeder would have succeeded it. It has turned out now that no one has yet made a large, successful, reliable, commercial breeder. We have gone a long way, but that statement is still true. If we ever are to use breeders, we need a lot of them to burn up the plutonium which we are making which we do not want and which we need not have and should not have were we to use this alternative type of reactor. I have tried to explain—


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is possible to burn plutonium in thermal reactors?


It is, my Lords, but normally it is burned in breeders and that is what the breeders are for. If one has read Dr. Marshall's paper, one will have found that he advocated the use of breeders to get rid of the plutonium which otherwise becomes an embarrassment.

This case is a very technical and complicated one. Very few people understand it; I cannot claim to understand it myself. All I ask the Government to admit is that the case for a proper investigation is very strong. If what I am told is right, we need not have Windscale, we need not have breeders and we need not have advanced gas-cooled reactors. Most certainly we do not want the pressurised water reactors which we are about to build. We could have a more realiable cheaper form of power which would satisfy the world for thousands of years.

I believe that I am right in saying that the Prime Minister has said, very properly, that there will be an inquiry before it is announced that breeders are to be built. My point is that the type of inquiry which has usually been mounted in the past will not be sufficiently detailed to answer the problem, which lies in the question: Do we need the rest of the system? If we have the rest of the system, we must have breeders. I want to impress upon the Government the importance of a completely impartial, thorough investigation of the whole system of nuclear power, because the manufacture of nuclear power stations has totally collapsed in America and here and we are now trying to create a new industry out of the ruins, and that is no way to proceed to form policy in the most important technical decision that we shall ever have to make in our lifetime.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, we are all greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for introducing this debate and piloting the production of these three reports. As his predecessor as chairman of Sub-Committee F, which has produced them, I should like to congratulate him—and I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place to hear this—on the very effective way, astringent and incisive, that he now handles our discussions which, although given a rather jolly, cosy leadership in my day, were of course nothing like so effective as they are at the present time. In the same way, we are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, for his chairmanship of the working party that produced the report on conservation, bearing in mind that they had to work on a mass of woolly generalities and have produced out of them something greatly to our advantage.

Energy leadership could well be the Achilles heel of the present Administration in the United States. In Britain, energy policy could well be the litmus paper that tests the Government's leadership of the nation, for energy policy goes to the root of many of our old, lazy habits. A former report—the first major energy report produced by the same committee in the Session 1974–75—raised the ques- tion: " How far are energy needs required for the general advantage as distinct from the wasteful demands of mere comfort?" Here maybe is the touchstone of the Government's leadership of this country in matters that far transcend party politics and which are of very great significance for the future of the European Community as well.

The Energy Objectives report that is now before us expresses, in paragraph 20, the hope that in view of Britain's favourable situation in regard to primary energy sources, the United Kingdom … will … take the lead in the Council in formulating an effective policy for the 1980s and beyond ". Whether the blind can lead the blind has yet to be shown; but that suggestion of British leadership does beg a gigantic question. It almost recalls Baudelaire's avowal: he felt a pressure of 20 atmospheres descended on his soul when he contemplated the impossibility of telling anyone anything. The question which is posed by that claim for British leadership is: What is our own Government's policy approach? There was little in the Conservative election Manifesto; there was nothing in the Queen's Speech. We enormously enjoy the repartee of a brilliant and popular Minister who answers for energy on the Front Bench but who, not being in the Energy Department, is inevitably poised mid-air in a strange fashion between cliché and indiscretion.

Of course at so early a stage in the life of this Government, one's comments can only be of an interrogative character. Beginning therefore with the subject of conservation, it is to be noticed—and several noble Lords have stressed this point—that the Fusion report before us suggests (in paragraph 29) that the allocation of research and development effort is right out of proportion and that far more should be invested in conservation. So a number of questions arise about this Government's approach to the subject. Since in Britain industry accounts for some 44 per cent. of energy use, is it not urgent to ensure the maximum economy here? A recent briefing paper by British Petroleum stated: Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product could be cut by up to 30 per cent. in Western Europe by raising the efficiency of energy using equipment ". So, although the chemical industry has cut its own consumption of energy per unit of output by some 30 per cent. over 11 years, I should like to ask whether the Government recognise that there is still an enormous amount to be done on the industrial side in this matter. What is the Government's attitude to proposals put forward by the prestigious Watt Energy Committee for new licensing and inspection standards for industrial boilers and furnaces to ensure that fuel consumption is properly monitored? It is common knowledge that all factory managers know a great deal about the consumption of their cars in terms of miles per gallon but the same men know jolly little, as a rule, about the consumption of their factory boilers and furnaces and their efficiency or otherwise.

The conservation report before us says—and the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, drew attention to this— A satisfactory mechanism for influencing events has yet to be found ". That is in paragraph 29. So, will Her Majesty's Government consider fiscal incentives—for example investment tax credits on energy-saving installations, accelerated depreciation, accelerated tax on inefficient equipment and buildings and tax incentives on district heating? Those are merely a few questions that come to mind.

My Lords, what about coal? There are two passages that are worth recalling to your Lordships from the first report of the Select Committee in the last session on Coal, which mentioned: Our problem in the year 2010 may not be to cover our total energy needs at the lowest cost but to cover them at all ". It concluded: It is essential that coal be developed to the maximum extent and a deliberate decision to do this should be made soon before it is too late. The credibility of energy policy, not merely coal policy, is in question ". That report was debated in this House last January. Do the Government accept that long-term investment in coal could be likened to long-term investment in defence? Do the Government consider that the target of 170 million tonnes per annum output of coal at the end of the century is anything like enough? What is the Government's attitude to the continued decline in productivity? Should not research and development now focus much more on liquefied and chemical extraction than on mechanical improvements? Should not underground gasification be given much higher priority in research? Should not closing-down pits be turned over to underground gasification as a method of extracting the remaining 40 per cent. or so of coal which is left behind? Also, have the Government yet given their minds to the North Sea deposits discovered by oil companies in their drilling? Are there any plans to encourage research and development here as to methods of extraction? Are there any plans to ensure that private enterprise gets stuck into it quickly and soon?

On the nuclear option, I could not take up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden—I wanted to call him " my noble friend " because in these energy matters we are all colleagues and these are not party matters that we are discussing. In that sense we are a council of state and I hope we treat each other as noble friends. I, being illiterate in these matters, am not qualified to comment at all on the very interesting points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, on the CANDU reactor, but I should like to ask the Government for their view on the focus placed by the Central Electricity Generating Board on the thermal nuclear programme. Have the Government noted in our Objectives report the evidence given by Dr. Richard Eden at Question 7?—that was when he pointed out that a uranium nuclear programme is nonsense unless one is sure of a uranium supply for 20 or 30 years. While I agree that that point begs the question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, it is a question at any rate that Dr. Richard Eden considered relevant. He pointed out that there might not, in the view of studies put before the World Energy Conference, be sufficient uranium for the entire European uranium reactor programme at the year 2010.

So, taking up the point made right at the start of his speech by my noble friend Lord Halsbury, I ask: Will the Government give up its game of hide-and-seek with the CEGB on choosing a site and getting the proper inquiry going so that a commercial fast reactor can be set in hand and can actually be operating not a day later than 10 years from now? That would still give only 10 years for the proving of it before the end of the century, when there would be a great need for others, if the public are satisfied by then that it is safe.

On the subject of gas, which has not so far been mentioned in this debate, my noble friend, Lord Gowrie, did tell the House on 11th July: Because we have a surplus in gas stocks, there is no need to interfere with domestic gas prices ". since when, however, the Price Commission has suggested, on 19th July, that the domestic price should rise by 30 per cent., and the Brindex Conference, which is a conference of British independent exploration companies, has said that the gas price policy is jeopardising exploration. That is the very point I made in my question to the noble Earl at that time.

In general, surely the Government must now accept, in view of their general philosophy and their readiness to be realistic in a great many fields, that pricing is the key to conservation, and that pricing is the key to exploration—so why not amend the Gas Act accordingly? I have one other particular question to mention before I finish, and that relates to geothermal energy. Has the Energy Technology Support Unit at Harwell considered the possibility of adapting used oil wells in the North Sea for geothermal power?

Those and many other questions could be posed. Of course, not all of them can be answered now, but what we do look for is a coherent approach. In this energy dilemma we find ourselves rich in resource to the envy of many; yet the Community is crestfallen in a marathon of mediocrity and baffled by its predicaments. The thinking British nation and the European Community itself desire a realistic lead, not patching their grief with proverbs and rounded generalities exuding a faint aroma of weak tea. If a poor society cannot be too poor to find a right order of life, neither can a rich society to too rich to have the need to seek it.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, says that in energy matters we are all colleagues, but I think most of us would agree that when you have no opposition it becomes very dangerous. Therefore, if I try to inject a note of controversy into this debate I hope I shall be forgiven. It seems to me that, so far, all the speeches have dealt with energy policy as though it could be viewed in isolation from the general objectives of society. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, was not altogether innocent of this—


My Lords, not innocent of anything!


My Lords, as the noble Earl says, " not innocent of anything ". He asked whether 170 million tonnes of coal would be anything like enough by the end of the century. Enough for what? Should we concentrate on underground gasification?—again for what? Should be ensure that private enterprise gets stuck into the exploitation of the sources of supply below the North Sea? Again, for what purpose? Should we have a fast reactor in operation within the next 10 years?—Cui bono?

The noble Earl, perhaps, if he were to reflect on it, would agree that, before we start to think about energy policy objectives, whether they be for ourselves, the EEC as a whole or the individual components of it that are discussed in these reports, such as fusion and conservation, we ought to consider whether the Treaty of Rome or the Euratom Treaty still accurately reflects the aspirtions of the European peoples and whether they take into account the practical constraints which might lead to a variation of those goals. If we look at Article 2 of the Treaty of Rome we see that it says that the Community's task is to promote a continuous and balanced expansion of economic activities and an accelerated raising of the standard of living ". In 1974, when we were negotiating to join the EEC, I wrote to the then Foreign Secretary who is now the Leader of the Opposition, suggesting that we should try to amend this fundamental Article so as to reflect present-day realities. The alternative form of wording that we suggested—and when I wrote to him I was speaking as President of The Conservation Society—was as follows: The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of Member States to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, the highest quality of living conditions for all people within the Community that are consonant with the paramount need, having regard to the interests of succeeding generations, to conserve the national resources and the environment, and closer relations between the States belonging to it'. The Government then took the view, and I suppose that many people would still agree with them, that the Treaty was capable of dynamic interpretation and that conservation in the environment may be construed as within the meaning of the basic Article. He did, however, conveniently ignore that part of my submission which related to resource constraints, which could well force us towards policies that are directly contradictory to Article 2. I note the Council decision which preceded the Summit in Tokyo, that consumption of oil within the Community should be limited to the amount that we are using at the present day, which might well be incompatible with the objective of raising living standards and continuous and balanced expansion of economic activities ". Of course, it is very much harder to work for higher quality of living conditions, because we then have no simple measure of achievement such as we thought could be applied to " continuous and balanced expansion ". People use the gross domestic product as a yardstick for measuring the EEC's achievement, and in doing so they count as pluses many goods and services which are of dubious benefit—tobacco, alcohol and dental services necessitated by the excessive consumption of carbohydrates are examples that spring to mind.

But if indiscriminate growth were not still seen as the principal objective of industrialised nations, then obviously there could be repercussions for energy policy as well. We shall never be able to judge what this could mean in practice, as long as the policy-makers imagine that publication of highly aggregated targets or forecasts for some future year is an adequate performance of their function. What matters, with great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, is not how much of a particular fuel we may use, but whether we are warm enough at home and at work, whether we have an efficient and reliable transport system and so on. If all the Commission is going to do in the field of energy policy objectives is simply to put together Member States' forecasts, comment on their feasibility and deliver a few pious exhortations, then the whole exercise is a waste of effort. I am disappointed that our own Select Committee has made no comments on the Commission's methodology, but has endorsed a similar exercise which concentrates, as the Commission has done, almost entirely on the supply side, taking the figures for the year 2020. Turning to the Euratom Treaty—


My Lords, just to defend the committee, these reports, one assumes, are read in the light of earlier reports. We have, of course, criticised the Commission's methodology a good deal in the past, and therefore do not want every time to repeat what we have said before. I think that that is fair to my colleagues.


My Lords, the noble Earl may have heard me say earlier, when we have debated reports of the Select Committee, that there is a gap in the loop, in that the Select Committee goes to a great deal of trouble to comment on the Commission's reports. We then have debates in this House—and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, may have made that point on previous occasions—but we do not get any feedback, because we do not have the faintest idea whether people on the Commission pay attention to speeches in this House. I very much hope that the remark of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, will be noted in the Commission.


My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again, but this is important, because it relates to this Parliament's relationship with the Community. The fact is that as Sub-Committee F and the others have grown in stature, confidence and competence, we have found that Commissioners get on the telephone to us jolly quickly and the first 50 copies, if not more, of all our reports are immediately ordered from Brussels. So I think that our word does carry.


My Lords, the noble Earl has not quite got my point. There are people who take part in these debates who are not members of Sub-Committee F, but they may be equally interested in the matters that are discussed in those reports. What I am saying is that if Members of your Lordships' House, or indeed of another place, take the trouble to read and study the reports and make comments on them, then we are entitled to some kind of reaction from the bureaucrats on the other side of the Channel. It is very disappointing, if one goes to a certain amount of trouble to try to understand these issues and to make comments on them, to find that one is greeted by a deafening silence from Brussels.

But I was turning to the Euratom treaty, and was going to say that it includes a commitment to, creating the conditions necessary for the speedy establishment and growth of nuclear industry ". That would certainly be necessary if, as the Commission's energy balance sheet for 1990 suggests, installed capacity is to be doubled between 1985 and 1990 from 78 gigawatts to 155 gigawatts. It is no wonder that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton—who I am very glad to hear is progressing well—referred to the proviso that environmental objections would have to be " overruled " if programmes of anything like this magnitude are to be launched. There has been no public debate in any of the countries of the EEC about such an enormous increase in our nuclear capacity, and I very much doubt whether it would be politically acceptable even if such an expansion were industrially possible, which throws some doubt on that enormous expansion.

While most of the recommendations of the Commission depend on the willingness of member States to carry them out, the Council has empowered the Commission to grant loans for the construction of nuclear power stations up to an amount of 500 million European units of account, or £335 million, and some of this money is being used to support what is described by the Commission as, further work to keep open the fast breeder option ". The former Secretary of State for Energy, Mr. Tony Benn, boasted that he had thwarted Commission proposals for the breeder, yet when he was President of the Council he signed the two instruments permitting these loans; and among those loans was one of 66 million European units of account for the construction of Super-Phenix, the French demonstration fast breeder reactor. So that while the Government were assuring an anxious public in the United Kingdom that no decision to proceed with a fast breeder would be taken without a wide-ranging public inquiry, at the same time they were helping to finance one across the other side of the Channel. I am not quite sure whether I should be accusing the former Government of naïvety or duplicity, but they must have been guilty of one or the other.

Also, the details of these loans were not given in the first report on Euratom Borrowing and Lending Activities (corn (79) 26 final), even though the information was available at the time when the report was produced and it was extracted by the European Environmental Bureau from sources in Brussels. I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, whether a second report has been produced on these Euratom loans and whether it is any more informative than the first one. Should there not be some better means of ensuring that major initiatives of this kind—loans for the construction of fast breeder reactors—are announced as and when they occur? Will the Government try to see that this is done, by seeking to amend the original Council decision signed by Mr. Tony Benn or by some other means?

The existence of a treaty which deals solely with nuclear power in isolation helps to create and sustain an imbalance in the effort of the Community, to which several noble Lords have referred. According to the Select Committee's report on fusion, the total amount being spent on atomic energy research throughout the Community is £1,100 million, out of a total energy research budget of £1,700 million—and I might say that none of that is ever recovered from the ultimate consumers of electricity or from the utilities, for whose benefit it is undertaken; where are the market forces, one would like to know, in operation in that sector?—while, as noble Lords have remarked before, the energy conservation unit within DG. 17 has a full-time staff of between three and four people. I do not know whether there is a figure for total Community spending on conservation, but the amount which is shown as being directly funded by the Commission is a mere 11.38 million European units of account.

I think that it is the Euratom treaty which psychologically helps to create this imbalance, and both the present Secretary of State for the Environment and his predecessor have agreed with Mr. Nigel Haigh, Vice-President of the European Environmental Bureau, that they would be prepared to support amendments of the Euratom treaty, so as to give it much wider objectives. But why do we have to sit back and wait for someone else to take the initiative in this matter? Could not the Government draft suitable amendments and put them forward for discussion, so as to enable us, under the Euratom treaty, to consider much wider policy objectives and to fund research on matters which are not within the nuclear field?

Finally, I want to make some brief comments on the evidence taken by Sub-Committee F from Dr. Richard Eden, and particularly the criticisms which he makes of the IIED Report, A Low Energy Strategy for the United Kingdom. Dr. Eden says that the growth assumption made for the purpose of the Commission's energy objectives paper of 3.8 per cent. compound between 1978 and 1990 is optimistic. his terminology implying that the higher rate of growth is ipso facto better. It is not surprising to me, therefore, that he should have tried to discredit the work of Gerald Leach and his colleagues, holding that point of view.

However, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, when he describes Dr. Eden's criticism as " brilliant ". I thought that it was extremely feeble, as I shall attempt to show in a moment. But if the Select Committee wanted to get at the truth, why did they not call Mr. Leach to defend his own report? And if Mr. Leach was given no opportunity to defend his report in public, while Dr. Eden's comments are left unanswered on the record, is not that contrary to natural justice? And what opportunity, I wonder, do the Select Committee intend to give to Mr. Gerald Leach to explain his report and put on the record his defence against the criticisms which have been expressed by Dr. Eden?


My Lords, the committee was informed that this question of a low energy strategy was being further considered in Brussels, and it was thought to be premature to go into the matter in detail in relation to this report until the results of this further study had been received. In that case, no doubt the committee will consider it when they have a document to consider.


My Lords, if it was premature to consider low energy strategies generally until the report from the Commission had been received, surely it was premature to allow Dr. Eden to comment in public about a report, the author of which had not appeared before the committee. This was improper, and no doubt on reflection the noble Lord will agree that it would have been only just and wise to have allowed Mr. Leach the opportunity to defend himself.

As Mr. Leach was not there to do so, I shall now proceed to deal with some of Dr. Eden's criticisms. He pointed out, correctly, that Mr. Leach specifics measures which are necessary if the lower levels of energy consumption delineated in the LIED report are to be realised. Then he says that doubt should be cast upon that report because it does not say that these measures will be achieved in practice. If it did say that, I think that Mr. Leach certainly would have merited severe criticism. However, Mr. Leach said that if certain measures are taken, these will be the reduced energy demands. Of course, he cannot say whether Governments or consumers will take the measures outlined because he is not a prophet, and that is not what his report set out to do.

Secondly, Dr. Eden criticises the methodology and gives the domestic sector as an example. What Mr. Leach has done is to take the number of households, the ownership of appliances, the degree of insulation, the amount of space per household and the temperatures which people will maintain. Dr. Eden says that if all these factors are wrong by 10 per cent., then we have got a cumulative error of something like 60 per cent in total. That of course is arithmetically wrong, because the number of households might be over-estimated by over 10 per cent., although I imagine that this is extremely unlikely, while the amount of space per household might be underestimated by a like amount, thus cancelling the first error. It would only be true to say that the total error was 60 per cent. if all the 10 per cents. were in the same direction.

Then Dr. Eden says that if the average income per household increases by a factor of three, it is inconceivable that people would not be living in much larger houses. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, remarked that Mr. Leach had badly underestimated the lead times. It seems to me that the lead times on replacement of housing stock are very long indeed. What I think has happened as people have become richer, on average, since the war, has been not so much that the amount of space per household has markedly increased but that the number of persons per household has declined. And Mr. Gerald Leach has provided for this trend to continue, albeit at a slower rate than up till now, because we are approaching a universal minimum nuclear household. Also, the standard of housing will be upgraded and, therefore, houses will cost more.

Dr. Eden asked what is the person who lives in the same size of house going to spend his extra money on. One thing will be the same sized house, with improved amenities. But there could he a very large rise in the standard of living of the poorest members of the community, bringing them up to the position now enjoyed by the élite. Some fraction of the increased wealth which Mr. Leach postulates would be, I hope, devoted to repairing substandard public services, if anything is left of them by the time that this Government have finished their term. If the experts are so eager to destroy the notion that mankind would be able to enjoy reasonably high living standards, with much lower use of energy, what hope is there for the lay policy-makers whom they advise?

The present Secretary of State said that maintenance of civilised values goes hand in hand with increasing energy use. This is no doubt the kind of rubbish which is being fed to him by policy advisers. Increasing energy use in turn requires a substantial nuclear element, as the Secretary of State put it at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. So we are being driven inexorably down the nuclear path, not by any real needs of the people of Europe but by a wholly irrational commitment to growth for its own sake. It seems to me that Mr. Howell is so mesmerised by this concept already that he even describes conservation as a " crucial energy resource ", thus enabling him to put it on the wrong side of the balance sheet.

I am just as keen as the Secretary of State for Energy on maintaining civilised values, and I assert that if you raise material expectations to a level which cannot possibly be realised you have the perfect recipe for social conflict and disintegration. Much of the dissatisfaction which people feel today arises from the conflict between the assurances that they have been given about everlasting growth by trade union leaders, businessmen, advertisers, politicians and the media, and their personal experience of a static or even of a declining purchasing power. They feel, with some justification, that they have been cheated. Real leadership today means telling the truth about the prospects for material and energy consumption. In future, it will be essential to make all natural resources go further, and energy in particular. The era of abundance is over.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour, after a succession of the most well-informed speeches, I shall confine the few remarks that I wish to make to some aspects of the Community's infant energy policy and to the part which Britain could perhaps play in it. From many different points of view I am sure that there needs to be some form of Community energy policy.

From the point of view of conservation—which is plainly desirable, and I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis—it is obviously helpful if Member States can be encouraged to take similar action at the same time from the point of view of preventing distortion of competition. If economic convergence is to be sought between Member States, it would be reasonable if there was also some convergence of energy policies, given the close relationship that exists between economic growth and growth in energy consumption.

Because of the Community's high degree of import dependence upon energy, there if a close link between energy policy and foreign policy. Supplies are more secure if the Community acts and speaks to- gether. The Community should pool research to avoid unnecessary expense. Above all, perhaps in conditions of shortage or threatened shortage, I am sure that it is desirable for industrialised countries to seek to align their responses—as, indeed, they have instinctively sought to do, whenever a crisis has arisen, and most recently at the Summits, concluding with the Tokyo Summit. If they wish to be able to align their responses to an international crisis, then it is better if they seek to work out their response in advance to any crisis that can be imagined—and the energy field is, of course, full of crises which can be imagined. For those reasons, I think we need a Community energy policy.

Also, I think that we in this country should play our full part in forming such a policy. I think that we should avoid any temptation to stand aside because we think that our position is in some sense different, since we have North Sea oil and since no other country has a comparable primary energy resource. We should avoid any such temptation which we may be subject to and play a strong and constructive part—and possibly a leading part, as my noble friend Lord Bessborough has called for.

I should like to put two questions to my noble friend Lord Gowrie, who will be replying for the Government. First, one relating to the communiqué that was issued at the Tokyo Summit. In that communiqué it was announced that the Community intended to maintain its oil imports from 1980 to 1985 at an annual level not higher than in 1978, and it was also announced in the same communiqué that four Member States—France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom—will have as their individual target in 1985 for oil imports the same figure as in 1978. The question I should like to ask is how is North Sea oil treated from the point of view of setting these objectives? Was North Sea oil, to the extent that it is consumed in the Community, treated as an import into the Community from the point of view of compiling these objectives, or was it ignored?

Obviously, if it was treated as an import, then the objectives promise a much greater degree of self-restraint than if North Sea oil was ignored. Obviously, it is quite a different thing for a country like Japan to aim to maintain its oil imports in 1980 at 1979 levels (as she pledged to do) than for the Community to do so if at the same time the Community is benefiting from the rapid progress of this country towards a position of self-sufficiency in oil. It also seems to me rather strange to announce that France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom (in the same breath) will have the same goal for oil imports in 1985 as in 1978, as if Britain was in the same position as the other countries.

As we all know, Britain is not in the same position at all, not so much because she is an oil producer as because she is moving towards a position of self-sufficiency in oil. In other words, it would be possible for oil imports to be maintained at the same level into the United Kingdom and to be compatible with an increase in the consumption of oil in the United Kingdom, whereas it is not at all possible for the other Member States of the Community. So I would be critical of that communiqué not being clearer, but I also suspect that this very ambiguity may owe something to the tendency of this country to wish to ignore North Sea oil when it comes to our relations with the other Member States of the Community—a tendency which I think we have shown in other contexts, particularly when we have asked for a reduction in our contribution to the budget on grounds of national poverty. There are times when it looks as though we ignore our possession of North Sea oil and ignore the fact that our partners in Europe are aware that we have this asset, and I think this is a dangerous tendency on our part and one that will lead to serious misunderstandings within the Community unless it is corrected.

To come to my second question, this concerns the part which the present Government may play in the formulation of a Community energy policy. How, in the view of the Government, does North Sea oil affect the part that we should or could play in constructing a Community energy policy? The Select Committee stated, in words repeated by my noble friend Lord Bessborough and by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, The Select Committee stated that they also hope the United Kingdom, as by far the largest producer of primary energy within the Community, will, despite its coming self-sufficiency, take the lead in the Council in formulating an effective policy for the 1980s and beyond ". Do the Goverment agree with that recommendation and, if they do, what initiative do they plan to take? In particular, what scope do they see for a Community energy policy? Do they agree with the Select Committee that so far as energy conservation is concerned it is important to achieve an equivalence of effort between Member States? Would they go so far as to agree with the Commission that a greater convergence of energy pricing policies within the Community is essential?

It may not be entirely fair to press the Government too hard on this subject as this is still quite an early period in the Government's term of office and no doubt the Minister is preoccupied at the present time with various aspects of domestic energy policy which have yet to be worked out, but I think it is important that there should not be too much delay in formulating a British policy and bringing that policy before our partners in the Community.

To illustrate the danger of delay I should like to quote from the Commission document, The European Community and the Energy Problem, which they produced last year: There are frequently long delays between the submission of proposals by the Commission and the decisions of the Council. The Community often reacts too late to the rapid development of circumstances and the delay is sometimes so great that proposals become out of date before being adopted. Moreover often the Member States, being conscious of this delay are led to take unilateral action in some respects as a precaution, which makes agreement on the measures proposed more difficult if not impossible ". So in other words the very insufficient common energy policy which we have at the present time could stay in that state merely by continued inactivity on the part of the Government. So I hope that not too much delay will be allowed before the present Government (as I hope they will) take their proposals, as to what can be done to improve the Community's energy policy, into the Council. One possible inhibition which the Government might feel, and one possible point which the Government are bound to take account of, is the excitability of public opinion during these years in which Britain acquires self-sufficiency in oil. After the experience of the last five years in Scotland, no Government can be insensitive to those dangers. The Government have to consider whether this or that conservation measure will be felt to be incompatible by the public with our present oil wealth.

In fact, I think that only in the event of shortages—which now seem to be behind us for the time being—or if conservation measures are markedly unpleasant for the consumer (which they need not be), are public objections likely to be aroused. For the rest, the public will expect the Government to lay the foundations of a policy that will enable our country, together with our partners, to survive as industrialised economies as oil ceases to be available.

In Europe, the Government must decide what can be expected from a Community energy policy and then what Britain's contribution can be. The fact that the previous energy Minister was a consistent anti-Marketeer must mean that a gap exists to be filled in the network of our constructive relationships within the Community. How the present Minister decides to fill the gap will be what many of us will be looking at in the months ahead.

8.39 p.m.


My Lords, I was not terribly sure what dangers were to be found by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, arising from Scotland over the last five years. I have found the Scottish scene over these years extremely interesting and in the recent election the Scots certainly behaved with a great deal more care and percipience than the English. But that is by the way. In many respects, the matters of conservation and the rational use of energy (as the report calls it) are the keys to our energy problems. As the Select Committee report itself says, in paragraph 33, Energy conservation, which will soon become a matter of continual rather than sporadic urgency, depends above all on changing social attitudes ". That is true, but there seems to be very little evidence that these attitudes are likely to change rapidly enough to be of great use to us, despite official efforts to encourage better energy management, and I think my noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis showed in his speech earlier today how feeble some of these official efforts often are. So, despite efforts to conserve energy and use it rationally, correct and proper as these are, there will still be need for the provision of increased energy provided, despite Lord Avebury's attitude, we intend to continue to increase our standard of living and assist others to do the same.

Where could this increased energy come from? I recall Thomas Tredgold's definition of engineering in 1828; he described it as the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man. These great sources of power are presumably nowadays sun, wind and wave. We have seen coal and timber and other fossil fuels, uranium and so on, in that guise, but now I think we see sun, wind and waves—all renewable sources of power and all sources of power which are in a sense free. The initial investment has to be made and there is a certain amount of running expense to be met, but the source of power itself—the wind and the waves appears to be free. But none of these are likely to be available to us for some considerable time. It is quite right, of course, that money should he spent on research and development in trying to derive power from sun, wind and waves, windmills and solar power, but no results of any significance will he seen from these this side of the turn of the century. So they will be of little help to us with what the Motion before us today calls " the growing urgency of the energy situation in Europe ".

Therefore other means have to be found. So far as possible these should be found from well-established engineering, from nothing ethereal which might produce results in the distant future. We want results which come from orthodox proven engineering, usable now, and which will produce the energy we need in the short term rather than the long term. The Committee ask the Community to concentrate on the successes and failures of national policies, and I want to mention some of these fairly briefly. First, there is combined heat and power. That is partly a mere matter of management and partly a matter of changing our investment in generating stations. Using combined heat and power would roughly double the efficiency of electricity generation, and that must be important; it seems worth doing.

At the moment, the CEGB is pursuing a policy which in general terms can be described as closing down the small stations in the cities and opening new big ones far out in the country. Well, it happens that the small ones in the cities are exactly the stations which are usable for combined heat and power and the big ones in the country are not. So it is quite possible that the Electricity Board would in fact achieve greater efficiency by reversing its policy; instead of closing the small stations in the cities it should keep them open, and if it had to close any it could close down the big ones in the country. There is nothing new about this. Combined heat and power has been known for many years and is used in Britain here and there on a small scale; it is used abroad sometimes on a larger scale. This is an obvious failure in public policy and an obvious failure which could be put right without too much difficulty.

The second item I want to turn to is one which was mentioned earlier on by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. Why not build the Severn barrage? We all know that, according to Lord Rothschild's Think Tank, a tidal barrage such as the one proposed in the Severn is potentially less productive than wave power, on which a number of people are now working But the important thing is that, so far as I can make out, the Severn barrage is within the state of the art of civil engineering; it could in fact be built. That is not yet true of the various wave proposals being talked about. They will probably come within the state of the art, but 30 or 40 years hence. So why not go ahead now and build the Severn barrage, which could, according to the committee's figures, provide 5 per cent. of the electricity needs of this country? Why not go ahead and build it now instead of waiting 30 years for wave power which might not even happen in that time?

Thirdly, it is normally assumed here and abroad that hydro-electric power has been almost fully exploited. I know that one scheme is now being proposed for the Peak district at a cost of some hundreds of millions of pounds, and it is now running into the usual environmental difficulties. I do not think there is much more in train in the hydro-electric field, at any rate on a big scale, in this country. But what about small hydro schemes? Not every scheme which is proposed need be producing several hundred megawatts. On the edge of Dartmoor, for instance, there is a group of three small hydro installations which added together supply a total of 3.4 megawatts to the grid; 3.4 megawatts taken against the total needs of the grid is a small amount, but in the area where it is generated it might well be a significant amount. On the global scale it is small. On the local scale it might very well be enough.

There is not much interest in small scale hydro schemes in Britain, but there is some arising in the United States. Incidentally, I should say that in the United States small-scale hydro schemes are usually defined as those producing less than 15 megawatts and they use dams not less than 6 feet high with a minimum drainage area of about 10 square miles. They are quite small installations. There is a research team at the Polytechnic Institute of New York, Brooklyn, which has identified over 1,600 existing dams in New York State alone. Many of those, by the way, already have disused turbines installed. They were built in the 1920s for hydro power but with the growth of economies of scale they fell into disuse. The team estimates that New York State's undeveloped and abandoned hydro-electric potential is around 1,300 megawatts, which would be a useful addition to the supply; it would be equivalent to a sizeable but not large new power station, with one additional advantage; whereas it takes perhaps up to 10 or 12 years to bring in a new power station—I am not talking about a nuclear one, which takes rather longer—that amount of electricity could, these people estimate, be produced in round about half that time.

Small scale hydro-electric power is taken seriously by Congress, and last year Congress voted 330 million dollars for a three-year national programme of investigation into this subject. Europe could follow suit. It is possible that there is no great potential in Britain, but there certainly is some, and in other parts of Europe there is in all probability more.

For all of that, for all these marginal areas of potential power which I have mentioned, it seems extremely likely that we shall have to depend to an increasing extent on nuclear power, despite the misgivings which have been published and which have been expressed in this House. However, there is a problem arising from the 21st Report of the Select Committee. It points out that although uranium is not really scarce, there could be a supply problem in the 1990s, just beyond the target date of the report, which is, 1990. It also points out that the price of uranium, because of the scarcity, might rise to a level which made the fast breeder reactor economic. If the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, is correct that will be less of a problem than the committee has suggested, partly because of uranium from the sea and partly because of what he quite rightly said about the CANDU Reactor. However, if the Government do not change their mind and go ahead to " go Canadian ", it is extremely likely that the problem will remain. According to Sir Francis Tombs, the Chairman of the Electricity Council, Britain has almost as much energy stored in depleted uranium already used in stations, as in the whole proven coal reserves. That uranium could be used in fast reactors.

The 1990s are not very far off, at any rate in terms of a technological time-scale. They may seem far away in ordinary time, but in technological time the 1990s are quite close. So, if the arguments presented by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, are mistaken or are not taken up, it seems to me absolutely essential that we go ahead with a quick decision on the fast breeder reactor. That decision must be taken now, because if it is not the fast breeder reactor will not be available in the 1990s. and the problem which the committee has identified will be facing us in all its starkness.

I believe quite honestly that energy is now the single most important policy issue which faces the Government, regardless of party. It is not a party matter. It is the most important, crucial and most dangerous policy matter which faces the Government. Time for debate on it is long over, and time for action is overdue.

8.53 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for having introduced this debate and also the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, for having made a most impressive contribution. As everyone has pointed out, we are faced with the problem which confronts the whole of the world— not just this country, not just Europe, not just the so-called Western world, but the whole of the world—the problem of energy. The problem with which we are faced is one which is constantly being confused because we are mixing up different things.

As I pointed out on a previous occasion, we are mixing up different types of energy. We are mixing up heat—thermal energy—with electrical energy and with special energy required for high grade chemical processes. They are different, but they are all important. We are also tending to mix up short-term with long-term problems. When one talks about nuclear fusion I think that so far as we in this House are concerned we might as well forget it. Certainly there are not many of us who will still be alive when nuclear fusion becomes operative—if it does. I am extremely sceptical as to whether it will become operative because it will be far too expensive. However, that is another matter. In any case I do not think that it is a matter that will concern us during the remainder of this century. We should be concerned with those things that matter now.

Why do we talk about an energy crisis? It is not because we do not have energy; it is not because when we go and turn on the gas tap no gas comes out and it is not because there is no electrical supply. In fact, from the point of view of crisis we were in a far worse state 30 years ago than we are today. We were in rather more of a crisis at that time than we are now. What is the crisis with which we are faced? It is essentially one of supply of oil and nothing else. What is worrying us about the supply of oil is that the oil producing countries have realised their power and that they can exercise some control. In 1973 they suddenly bumped up the price of oil. I do not blame them. We have done the same sort of thing ourselves with all sorts of commodities. But the point is that they suddenly increased the price of oil dramatically and it has been going up since, although in real terms it has not gone up as much as we imagine it has. However, it has increased. We now know that we are in a very serious position as regards the price of oil.

We do not know what will happen to the price of oil. I suggest that the most important action that can be taken now is to take the advice given in today's Guardian by the noble Lord, Lord Lever, and try to see whether we cannot come to an agreement—an agreement between the OPEC countries, the oil prducing countries, and the consuming countries. It is in the interests of both of us to reach some sensible agreement on this matter. It may take time, but it is essential that we reach agreement because if we do not what will happen is that first, so far as we are concerned, the price of oil will go up and throughout the whole of the Western world it will become increasingly difficult to manage our economy. Indeed, our economy depends not just on the use of oil as a fuel, but on the use of oil for chemical purposes. There is a wide and extensive use of oil.

Unless we come to an agreement, our costs will increase and at the same time we shall find that, if our economy—that is, the economy of the whole of the Western world, because I am not talking about just this country or Europe—decreases then the oil producing countries will not make as much money because they will not be able to sell as much oil. Therefore, it is in the interests of the oil producing countries and the oil consuming countries that we should try to reach an agreement. I suggest that in the short term—I am not now talking about what will happen in 10 or 20 years, but about what will happen within the next five years—it is vital that we work towards an agreement with the oil producing countries in order to reach some rational solution.

Only this morning I heard, as perhaps did other noble Lords, a remark on the radio which was a quotation from some graffiti in a lavatory in, I think, Manchester. It might be appropriate for virtually all energy administrators. It went as follows: I used to be indecisive; now I am not certain ". That is almost exactly what happens with all energy administrators: they have never been either certain or decisive. That is the trouble throughout the whole of our Western world. In the United States, which is the biggest country in the world, an energy administrator has been relieved of his post. One can only hope that they appoint someone who is a little clearer and more decisive than Schlesinger. Two years ago I happened to be in America and I was appalled at the lack of decision on energy matters—a country which consumes more energy per head than any other country in the world and which has no clear energy policy at all. Let us beware that we do not fall into the same trap. We must be careful; we must try to find a clear energy policy—not simply in this country, for that is not enough as we are a small country; but, as the committee which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, chairs suggests, it should be a policy for Europe, at least to begin with. If we can do that, we may begin to get somewhere.

What are the problems with which we are concerned? The problems are put before your Lordships in part tonight. There is the problem of conservation. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, pointed out, conservation is absolutely clear and essential, and can be carried out, but it must be carried out with determination. If the Government do not have determination, if they merely make nice, bland statements and have pious hopes—I know that the noble Earl will not want to do that and I hope that he will ensure that the Government do not do it—it will lead us nowhere at all.

There is then the problem of electrical energy. Sometimes people talk about nuclear energy as though it could cover the whole of our energy field. It cannot. Effectively it deals with electrical energy. At present it supplies only about 13 per cent. or 14 per cent. of electrical energy. I believe that it can supply much more.

I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is not present because I wanted to comment on what he said. The noble Lord remarked upon the fact that our committee had criticised Dr. Leach's booklet on energy requirements. The fact is that Dr. Leach never gave evidence before us; he never offered to give evidence; I believe I am right in saying that he was invited to appear before us but found it awkward to attend. I am not making any accusations at all about Dr. Leach. However, when Dr. Eden was asked rather casually at the end of our sessions of evidence what he thought about Dr. Leach, he said—and this makes it clear that there was no essential criticism of Dr. Leach: I would like to say firstly that the report is very well-presented. The assumptions and methods are stated at a level of clarity which one rarely sees in energy reports ". In other words, there was no question of Dr. Leach being denigrated in any way. I should like to make that clear because, from what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, one might be left with the impression that perhaps Dr. Leach had been unfairly treated. I do not think that there was any such intention at all. Dr. Eden went on to say: I just say that scenarios normally represent targets rather than forecasts, and the presentation by Gerald Leach is a target for low energy growth ". That is a perfectly fair statement. The committee was under no impression that it was getting a detailed, careful analysis of the whole position, and we did not have Dr. Leach before us in order to undertake such an analysis. I mention that simply because it would be unfair to Dr. Eden to leave the position as suggesting that Dr. Eden had criticised Dr. Leach in his absence. He was specifically asked whether he had any comment to make on this general report.

I should like to make one other remark about the matter of the production of electrical energy by nuclear methods. My noble friend Lord Bowden has had the advantage of going to Canada and seeing what they do there. I have not yet had the advantage of looking at his report, but I hope to see it in October. All the evidence that I have been able to obtain, from both talking to people and reading about it, is that the fast breeder reactor ought to be pursued. I have no idea whether it will ultimately prove successful—that is not the point. But at present in this country, at Dounreay, we have a fast breeder reactor. They have a fast breeder reactor in France, which incidentally I hope to see in September; they have one in Japan and in Germany; and they have one in America which was closed down quite arbitrarily by the administration there about two years ago. These are all small, experimental reactors; not one of them has been built on a commercial or semi-commercial scale. All that is being suggested now is that it is vital to build one on a commercial scale in order to see whether it really can work as the people who are running the present ones think they can work.

I have here the report of the General Accounting Office of the United States on the fast breeder reactor. The report only came out in May. There they criticise the administration in America for not going ahead with the fast breeder reactor. The Accountant General in America says: There is considerable disagreement and concern over the extent to which nuclear power should be pursued as compared to coal, solar, and other energy options. In any event breeders "— that is the fast breeders— are the essential ingredient of making nuclear fission a long-term energy source. A decision not to develop breeders implies the phasing out of nuclear fission as an energy source. Exactly when this could occur depends on our ability to recover uranium and further improve the efficiency of light water reactors ". In other words, they say there that the stage is a critical one. If we say that we do not go ahead with fast breeder reactors, we say that we are not having nuclear energy.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is not here because I rather suspect that that is what he would say; that he does not want nuclear energy. But that is the decision we reach. You either go ahead with the fast breeder reactor, in which case for probably a thousand years you will have enough energy, or you say ," No, we are not going to have it ". I personally feel that it would be irresponsible for us to say that we do not go ahead with examining further the fast breeder reactor.

9.10 p.m.


My Lords, this debate follows quite naturally and logically the more general debate that we had on energy resources on 4th July. But I think that the key to Lord Sherfield's Motion is the growing urgency surrounding the energy situation in Europe, and the three reports, interrelated as they are, cover aspects which will have to be faced by all Member States of the Community, and just as much by us after we have lost our self-sufficiency rating. The reports include these two major research activities; namely, the second energy R and D programme, and the fusion research programme.

I think it is worth noting that the Community has been committed to a total annual R and D expenditure rate which has grown from 70 million European units of account in 1973 to 255 million European units of account in 1978, with a large proportion devoted to energy. There is great support among member States for this level of research and development, as I understand it, but the biggest problem is that the European research system must be made to work more efficiently.

The Commission has a staff deficit in the research and technical areas, and is now faced with a situation where it must either consider increasing its resources to cope with programme management, or must find other methods of managing the direct, indirect, and concerted action programmes, perhaps through better consultative machinery in partnership with industry. This, I think, is a real problem, and the Commission is searching for ways in which to solve it. The advisory committee on programme management have been more concerned with project selection than project management in the indirect action programmes, and the Commission is now in the process of developing the Community's R and I) policy which was originally proposed in the council resolution as long ago as 14th January 1974.

Two factors now arise in the R and D field. First, the need to analyse any research and development proposal in terms of the impact it will have—assuming it is successful—on environment, society and industry. Secondly, there is concern that European research and development effort should be initiated early enough in relation to world developments so that the Community has an adequate technical base to safeguard the future. With some new technology lead-in periods of 20 years or more it is essential that early action is taken so that our industries are ready to serve the community with the products of the future.

In certain areas it is critical that the Community should be seen to be up with the leaders instead of down with the laggards. Micro-processors, advanced electrical storage batteries, coal liquefaction, just to mention a few of the things, are common areas of interest to all Member States. In energy conservation, which the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, has dealt with very clearly, compare our own national effort being co-ordinated by the Energy Technical Support Unit at Harwell with its staff of 40, and the Commission effort being co-ordinated by DG. XVII on energy with a staff of four.

As the committee concludes in its report on energy conservation and as many noble Lords have said, it does not make sense for the Commission to allocate so little effort to back such an important and urgent matter as energy conservation. We are told they have plans for giving greater status to the conservation activity in the Energy Directorate, which is a good thing and I hope we shall hear positive moves in this direction soon.

One particular measure which the Commission now advocates is to intensify efforts on more efficient energy use in transport, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who was very concerned about this whole area. I could not agree more with them and I believe we should look at the potential of electricity in transport much more seriously. On railways, British Rail say their network will be completely electrified by 2000, including the probable use of advance storage batteries on some lines. But I think there is a good case for speeding the programme up and it is not encouraging for anyone to see so many diesel locomotives hauling trains over electrified lines.

One expects difficulties to arise in the changeover period, but if we want to look at the wider use of electricity in transport, we should examine whether there are legislative constraints which discourage the exploitation of electric propulsion. For example, Continental cities are able to use electric tramways efficiently. One reason for that is that very high voltage supply standards are used and used safely. In the United Kingdom there may well be a good case for having further thoughts about tramways and exploiting new standards, but in view of the fact that the Tramway Act 1870 and Light Railways Act 1896 are still in force, we may find that they constrain further development, especially if we remember that the 1870 Act was drafted for horsedrawn carriages. The Light Railways Act was an attempt to deregulate mainline standards and spread railway use and the Light Railways Commissioners were appointed to authorise suitable undertakings. The de- regulating Act now needed, I believe, is one to enable the user to take what in today's parlance is a hike in technology.

The Government are at present reviewing the functions of the Energy Commission, which is there to advise and assist the Secretary of State for Energy on strategy matters and specific aspects of energy policy. I suggest there is one useful function which it could perform in addition to many others, and that is to examine whether on energy grounds new legislation is needed to replace various transport Acts, like the ones I have mentioned, which are almost certainly counterproductive in the energy conservation context.

The promoters of the Tyne and Wear Metropolitan Railway Act 1973 took a leap forward with a rapid transit system, but in the 1979 Act, the title of which is the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Act, we do not know whether it is really a tramway or a railway. The fares structure applying to the metro is the one applying to a railway which has the nature of a tramway. We have none, so what on earth does it all mean? Obviously this is not the subject for debate on the Floor of your Lordships' House. I am told that the promoters are faced with the problem of who drives and reaching agreement with the unions involved, that is to say the NUR and the TGWU. On energy grounds, it would surely be more beneficial to all of us for potential promoters to face a more sensible path to the statute book.

On the road, we now see considerable efforts being devoted to improving the performance of petrol and diesel fuel engines, and this is essential. There is no doubt that engine performance can be stretched over the next few years if the vehicle industries round the world are prepared to spend money to do it. We shall also see synthetic liquid fuels appearing at the petrol pumps probably after 1992, which is the target date set by the National Coal Board for bringing its liquefaction plant developments to a point where large-scale coal refineries can be constructed and operated on a production basis, when the economy will demand it for sure.

The Commission now regards electric road vehicle developments very seriously, and part of the second four-year energy research and development programme is involved with the electric vehicle sector, which includes advanced battery development. With my interest in the Electric Vehicle Association here and in the European Electric Road Vehicle Association, the point I wish to make is that we must not forget that the electric vehicle holds out a promise of being a much more important energy option in the transport field in many cases, and we should not therefore put all our development money into synthetic liquid fuel projects. We must put money into the further development of electric vehicles to satisfy many of the transport needs of the future and to provide the best economic answer. We are in a unique position in the United Kingdom, having 45,000 licensed electric vehicles on our roads. The yearly output is 1,500, and it is estimated that even now there are some 65,000 internal combustion engine goods vehicles which could be directly replaced by electric vehicles. This would indicate a market of some 4,000 per year, which is easily within the capacity of the United Kingdom industry.

In any case synthetic fuel is likely to be highly priced by today's standards and the case for electric road vehicles may then look much more attractive. The second Four-year Energy R and D Programme is regarded by the Commission as being a rolling programme which was proposed in the last year for the First Programme, which was officially terminated on 30th June this year. But, my Lords, the Second Four-year Programme has not yet been approved by the Council of Ministers, and with the best will in the world one cannot regard this new programme as being a rolling one if there is to be a yawning gap between the two programmes.

The Second Programme was due to come before the Research Council on 26th June, and this was cancelled. I am told that COREPER themselves considered the programme at their meeting in Brussels on 28th June and I understand that there was full agreement as to the balance and total funding, with greater emphasis on energy conservation and much less on solar. But one member-State registered its disagreement with Article 2, which sets an upper limit for expenditure commitments. This one member-State ap- parently supports the European Parliament's amendment to Article 2 for all research and development proposals—that the programme figure should have an indicative value only. The Energy R and D Programme raises again the Article 2 syndrome (as I call it) and one member-State has now carried its contentions through to the Council level. I understand that the position will now be considered at the Foreign Affairs meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning. Eight member-States agree with the ceiling figure proposal, and a decision on this energy programme now hangs in the balance.

I think it can be said that this one member-State has made its point about the principle involved in the Article 2 wording, and I hope that it will manage to join the other eight, so that a unanimous decision can be reached on approval of this most important Energy R and D Programme. The next Research Council is due to take place in November, and I think that it would be a very sad reflection on the Community if a decision cannot be reached now on the Energy R and D Programme, when energy is such a crucial issue in our lives.

I realise that the Government are in a difficult position, but I hope that they will he able to bring their influence to bear in such a way that the programme will be approved. If the noble Earl the Minister can give any indication as to what progress is being made and whether approval has actually been given, I am sure that the House would welcome this.

I will now move on to my next point, which concerns the Fusion Programme. This programme is of world-wide interest and is very long term. No crash action is needed (as the noble Lord, Lord Sher-field, said) and in fact one can say that it creates distinctive career opportunities for young people in most countries. But there is a danger that the national programmes will create a series of competitive empires and that the overall co-ordinating role of the Community will become unmanageable and get out of financial hand. There are formidable areas of technology involved and effective programme control is needed, especially if the total value of the programme as it stands at the moment is only an indicative sum. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, said that it would be most essential to keep a careful watch over the way this Fusion Programme develops, and I think he is quite right in saying that.

The situation at the moment is that we now have in the United Kingdom a major experiment in the form of JET at Culham, which will allow our own scientists and technologists to take direct interest in the Commission programme. This is the first time that a Community centre has been located in this country, and I think that this will help industry to get a much closer understanding of the technological needs which will arise in the next stages of experimentation. The lead-in time for fusion power, if it can be achieved, will be of the order of 50 years, as Lord Sherfield said.

The lead-in period for the next post-JET experiment will be of the order of 10 years, and the Commission programme makes it quite clear that the next experimental study cannot be achieved unless the magnetic confinement of the plasma in the Torus vessel is intensified by using super-conducting technology. From the European point of view, if we are to go ahead, we must therefore rely upon the development of super-conducting magnetic coils to provide the only way of containing a burning reaction of the Tokamak type. Although we did not take evidence on this particular point in the Committee, we had our attention called to the fact that the Science Research Council, through its engineering board, is drawing up more plans for developing super-conducting technology through its super-conductivity panel. The Science Research Council is concerned that a national R and D programme is aimed at underpinning a significant United Kingdom involvement in the development of large experiments, and to allow the British heavy electrical industry to build on its considerable experience in super-conducting magnet technology, which is so vital if it is to be competitive in the international field.

I think that if the United Kingdom is to play its part in the post-JET experimental field, then we should now be devoting our efforts to supporting super-conductivity technology so that we are ready to offer suitable designs, either for the large coil projects, which are multinational and which are contained in the American programme at the Argonne National Laboratories, or for the next European experiment, which will probably be sited in some other country of the Community. The United Kingdom has made a good start in the design of super-conducting magnets and machines over the last 10 years—and I declare an interest here—but we shall be overtaken unless we are prepared to spend some money now to take the technology forward in such a way that we can meet the requirements of the fusion programme at the right time.

The Commission basically believe in three methods of financing R and D projects: through direct action, indirect action and concerted action. In their experience, these are the methods which are most suited to the needs of the Community, and which have proved to be successful and acceptable to the Member States. Indirect action rolling programmes are being structured in such a way that a new bloc of actions is published in the last year of the old programme. In principle, such a system is worthwhile if it can be operated in such a way that there is continuity of effort; and the indirect action rolling programme in particular provides the opportunity to employ the existing research teams and laboratories in the Member States and assemble the most competent research teams at any time. However, as soon as any new rolling programme is approved, invitations to tender are invited from any interested sources, and the result is that there are risks of breaking up successful research teams between one programme and the next. I feel that the Commission should pay very much more attention to the question of trying to preserve this element of continuity with the research teams that they are supporting; and Lord Lovell-Davis drew attention to this particular point. I think that the rolling programme principle will help to ensure a continuity of research, but the missing factor is the one which encourages research and development teams to keep together where they are succeeding in critical areas.

I think we are all interested in improving the efficiency of the European research system, and I am very glad to see that the Commission are now holding an energy R and D seminar on the results of the first energy R and D programme in Brussels between 23rd and 25th October. If Lord Lovell-Davis would like to see details of this programme, I can show him them at any time. This will bring together all the people involved as contracting organisations, which will give the Commission guides on formulating and directing their second programme. I am told that 75 per cent. of the results will be available for discussion. Ideally, this seminar should have taken place before the second programme was formulated, but I should like to welcome the fact that it is now going to take place, even though it is taking place late. It will be valuable to the Commission and contractors alike. I hope that one of the lessons that will come out of the seminar is that there must be a much stronger link between research and development and demonstration in the energy field.

The reports referred to in the Motion emphasise the long-term issues in energy as well as the short-term ones; but think that the two principal messages brought out are those of urgency and scale. The scale is daunting but the urgency is the force driving us to look for solutions, and I believe that the Commission has a constructive role to perform in initiating Community energy action in the energy field, and I hope that the Government will take the lead in the Council of Ministers in determining an effective Community energy policy. CAP may be an obligatory item on which we do have a policy, but CEP, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, is a non-obligatory item and probably will be more important.

9.31 p.m.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, if your Lordships have a weakness it is that the House is occasionally, I think, prone to self-congratulation. We all tell each other how good the debates have been and how excellent individual speeches have been. But if I offer congratulations this evening with that warning, I think that I may be allowed to do so because I am one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who is taking part in this debate who is not a member of Sub-Committee F on Energy, Transport and Research. The noble Lords, Lord Sherfield and Lord Lovell-Davis, the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and the noble Lords, Lord Wynne-Jones and Lord Ironside, all serve on this impressive committee; and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I understand, did so before the same official duties as I now have precluded him from doing so. I hope that I can say with neither flannel nor flattery that this is a first-class committee. I would doubt whether there are many legislatures in the Western world even at this point of crisis where one would find people so well-informed on energy issues.

I want to make, in my own order, my remarks about the reports (which I shall try to make as briefly as possible) before I attend to the individual points which noble Lords have put to me. I shall consider first the Community energy objectives for 1990, then conservation, with which the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, was concerned, and finally fusion. We are privileged to have had the chance to read these reports; and, as one who has to spend a great deal of his spare time wading through papers, I certainly found them a good read. It was a delight when I got down to them in the Box. They were well-written, lucid and clear.

My Lords, the Community communication Energy Objectives for 1990, was on the agenda of the Energy Council last December. It is based on forecasts by member-States to the Commission in the 1978 Review of National Programmes by member-States. On the basis of an analysis of the energy position of the Community against the Commission's forecasts of the world energy situation towards 1990, the communication concluded that it was possible to achieve the Community's energy policy objective of reducing dependence on imported energy to 50 per cent. by 1985 and proposed intensified action through savings and a greater role of coal and nuclear in electricity generation.

The Energy Council, last December, took note of this communication. The Commission have since prepared a further paper on 1990 objectives which was presented to the last Energy Council on 18th June. The paper concludes that world oil supply prospects do not justify much more than 470 million tonnes of net oil imports by the Community in 1990. This is the same as was set as a target for 1985 by the European Council in March, and again at Strasbourg in July. The Government take a constructive approach towards these objectives, which demonstrate the importance that, as members of the Community, we attach to energy questions. It was in this same spirit that we agreed at the June Council and again at Tokyo a series of energy objectves to cope with the supply situation by restraining demand for oil up to 1985. So I can assure noble Lords that we shall examine with great care and consideration the new objectives for 1990—for five years later—proposed by the Commission.

The Commission communication was right to emphasise the uncertainties involved in forecasting; none of us can accurately predict the future. This does not make sensible long-term assessments of the situation invalid. It means, though, that we should not place on them a weight they cannot bear by specifying over-detailed energy objectives covering the individual sectors of national energy programmes. I welcome the speeches this afternoon—and they were the majority—where a certain scepticism about forecasting crept in. We should look rather to ensuring that any objectives we formulate are practicable and realistic and give our member-States flexibility in meeting them. The Government will of course wish to play a constructive part in the development of Community energy objectives and be ready to agree sensible objectives in the EEC as well as in the International Energy Authority.

Turning now to conservation—with which, as I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, an ex-Minister in the Department, was specially concerned—I should like to welcome the useful report by the Select Committee, much of which is in accord with the Government's own approach to Community policy on conservation. The need to conserve energy has been stressed at successive Summit meetings—not to mention in successive debates in your Lordships' House—and recent events have underlined the importance for all countries of reducing demand. We certainly believe that the Community has a role to play in providing a forum in which information can be exchanged, national programmes compared and best practices shared. By its very nature, we see energy conservation as a field in which overwhelmingly the responsibility must lie with national governments. In the United Kingdom, conservation is now one of the major components in the Government's long-term energy policy and we do not underestimate the need for continuous efforts in the direction, or the need to bring our own pressure to bear within the Council of Ministers, as my noble friend Lord Bessborough wished us to do.

We have to recognise the validity of some of the criticisms raised by the Committee, but we must at the same time bear in mind that conservation is a relatively new art—though maybe your Lordships would say it is long overdue—and we are all learning, often from each other's experience. The report is rightly critical of certain organisational and policy aspects of the Community energy conservation programme, and it was the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, himself who expressed disenchantment. But we can take credit for having pressed in the Community for improvements which held to the Community decision to abolish the RUE Steering/Co-ordination Committee. This will make the link between policy guidance and the work of the individual sector working parties more direct.

We should not dissent from the committee's criticisms of the first Conservation R and D programme and have pressed strongly during negotiations on the second programme for a thorough evaluation of Community and national programmes. We have had some success here: we urged that a larger part of the funds should be devoted to conservation. We have " upped the ante " a little in that direction.

My Lords, we share your committee's concern at the previous absence of links between the Community's general energy policy and their R and D and demonstration programmes. However, member-States are more aware now than in the past of the importance of conservation and we are seeing an improvement in linking R and D to policy objectives. Your committee have also criticised the lack of continuity between the R and D programmes and the demonstration projects programme, but it is probably a little early in the day to expect the R and D programmes to have resulted in proposals for incorporation just yet. As I said, we have accorded energy conservation a central and permanent place in our policy, and we recognise the need to overcome the kind of difficulties raised by the Committee and the benefits to be had from these Community schemes. But we also recognise what is having to take place is a change in social attitudes. These will not be brought about by bureaucratic proliferation or promulgations. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, who made that point.

I turn now to the fusion programme, on which the Select Committee has again produced an excellent report. Fusion offers a prospect of energy generation using virtually inexhaustible fuels. However, the path to this Arcadia is long, difficult and expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, with all his expertise, told us. It is not a path which any one member-State can hope to follow by itself. That is why we fully supported the principle of a Community fusion programme which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, called a " copybook example " of a Community research programme. This includes all the fusion research being undertaken throughout the Community, and indeed it extends wider now that Sweden and Switzerland have associated their programmes with it. I, of course, welcome their association. This is in contrast to the Community conservation programme which is selective and which complements the more important national programmes. The size of the two programmes is not therefore, in our view, directly comparable.

The committee also drew attention to the increasing cost of the programme, and I should make it clear that the financial element of the proposals we are considering concerns only a part, albeit the major part, of the programme. It does not include the JET project on which separate decisions were taken; nor does it include the fusion research carried out at the Community's own establishment at Ispra. The substance of the proposal concerns the work carried out by the associated laboratories in member-States. Thirty per cent. of the cost of this would be borne by the Community Budget and the rest would be funded by the national laboratories. In effect, therefore, the Commission are seeking approval to increase their funding of this part of the programme by some 40 per cent. to around £150 million over the quinquennium 1979–83. Some increase in cost is inevitable as the programme moves progressively into the engineering area, and no appreciable increase in scientific staff is foreseen. Nevertheless, the Government feel that the increase in funding of the size proposed is excessive, particularly in view of the long-term effects of the policy, and they share the Committee's view that a more cautious and deliberate approach is called for.

If I may, I should like now to turn to some of the individual points that have been made. Some noble Lords—notably the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, on whose introduction of this debate I must warmly congratulate him—drew our attention to the Government's nuclear programme and asked what our approach was to nuclear power. The Government believe that nuclear power has an essential role to play in our energy policy. We shall be looking to the future and exploring possibilities for its development to ensure that we have a nuclear strategy which enables stations to be built and operated efficiently, reliably and safely.

Nuclear safety was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and many others. It is, of course, essentially a national responsibility. The buck has to stop firmly with us, but, as was agreed at the recent Tokyo Summit, there should be international co-operation to ensure an expansion of nuclear power under conditions allowing for the understandable public concern that we debated on 4th July and which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised tonight. Nevertheless, I would say to the noble Lord and others that anyone thinking that there can be even limited or modified economic growth without development of nuclear power is, in my opinion, living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked about the Government's views on solar energy.


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, has he read the ERDP Report and are we going to get any reaction to it from the Government whatsoever?


Not this evening, my Lords. The extent to which solar energy may be used cost-effectively in the United Kingdom—and I stress " cost-effectively "—is the subject of continuing work. The noble Lord may like to note that the trial project in Bebington, Wirral to which he referred is supported by the Department of Energy.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me whether the " Save it " campaign would be continued. The Government are considering at present how best to use the advertising media of this country generally so as to help all consumers to use energy efficiently. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and his noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis asked whether the Commission's manpower on energy conservation was adequate. I am a little sceptical as to whether a mere increase in the wattage, if I may put it that way, of manpower serves to solve these problems or indeed to see to their diffusion. But I understand that energy conservation has now been upgraded to be the responsibility of a division within DG XVII, and a new head has been appointed. Of course, your Lordships will want to see whether that is an improvment, but we cannot yet tell. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to an article in, I think, the Guardian, about the South London Consortium Energy Group. We welcome and support proposals for research, development and demonstration, so long as they hold the promise of cost-effectiveness. For instance, we are supporting certain aspects of the work of this South London group and look forward to seeing the results. But future Government action will depend on the rear life savings achieved and on cost trends.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, reverted to the theme of the first energy debate under his name that we had in this House, and asked us what we were doing about the current crisis. We are, of course, committed as a Government to effective demand restraint, which is the best way to bring supply and demand back into balance. The electricity supply industry is reducing its oil burn to the practical minimum, by increasing the amount of coal which is used to generate electricity. The public sector is committed to a real and determined drive to save oil, over and above the long-standing campaign to conserve all fuels. Government are also in continuing contact with the oil industry to ensure that allocation schemes are equitably administered. We do, of course, look to the public voluntarily to make their contribution to saving oil.

I am not quite sure whether I recognise a national crisis on any immense scale here. I certainly take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who felt that we were caught short in a way that some of our European colleagues were not. But I think that some of my scepticism about the claims of previous Administrations, and a system of more control over the energy supply, was because it did not really produce as rapid a solution as was originally claimed for it. But, certainly, I do not think that we were in a disaster area, though there were shortfalls, difficulties and blockages, as farmers and others have experienced. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, and would point out to the noble Lords, Lord Tanlaw and Lord Strabolgi, who raised the matter, that high prices are a great educator of the public. That is not a simple matter of leaning on market philosophies or whatever, but certainly one tends to take the proper steps in conservation, and in many other subjects, when pain is felt in the purse.

I shall look into the question of whether the right energy unit should be the joule, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, suggested. The noble Lord asked me whether a better means could be found to inform consumers of the energy efficiency of appliances. In preparing Community Directives on energy labelling, considerable attention is paid to defining information which will be intelligible to consumers in all member-States; and this arises, too, out of his demand for a common unit of measurement. It is recognised that there is a need for an education campaign backing up labelling, but, again, given the differing social and economic environments of the member States concerned, education must principally be for the national States themselves.

My noble friend Lord Bessborough, as always on these issues, gave an educative and informative speech and warned us against having a common energy policy which fell into some of the pitfalls of the common agricultural policy. I am one of the very few mavericks in British public life who have a few kind words to say about the Common Agricultural Policy. But, in that context, I would point out that, when I was in Opposition and was trying to widen my portfolio of interests a little more, my noble friend the then Opposition Chief Whip, now the Government Chief Whip, said " You may take it as read, Grey, that the two subjects you will never be let loose on are military matters and agriculture." My noble friend Lord Bessborough asked whether we were able to tap Community funds for research and development in the wave field—that is, the Severn Barrage—and the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, was also interested in that. I do not know the answer there, but I will look into it and write to both noble Lords concerned.


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, may I point out to him that he had better distinguish between the Severn Barrage, which is tidal, and research into wave power, which is an altogether different thing.

The Earl of GOWRIE

Yes, my Lords, I do make that distinction. My point related to the Severn; I must have misread my notes.

I should like to hand a bouquet or perhaps, since he quoted several poets, a laurel to the noble Earl, Lords Halsbury, for his most interesting, imaginative and impressive speech which contained just the right sort of robust note that is going to result in our solving some of these problems.

On the subject of poetry, may I remind the noble Earl of the late and great (and I am honoured to have known her) American poet, Marianne Moore, who defined poetry as " imaginary gardens with real toads in them ". There is something about the unknowability of our energy future which makes that remark pertinent. Certainly I hope that if Maplin is chosen as the proper site for the next London airport—and I have nothing to say about whether it will be because I do not indeed know—it should be the noble Earl who is given the task of gently persuading the Brent geese to move a few miles up the road. Judging by his form tonight, I am sure that they would go very quietly. I look forward to being clobbered by the noble Earl, as he has suggested, and I assure him that, like himself, I shall not panic.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, talked impressively and informedly about the collapse of the United States nuclear power industry and drew our attention to progress in Canada. The noble Lord was bullish about reactors. Certainly I should like to follow that up and get in touch with Canadian colleagues to see what we can learn from them.

My noble friend Lord Lauderdale said some kind things about me, for which I thank him, but, knowing my noble friend, there was a slight sting in the tail. He talked about my answers being poised between cliché and indiscretion. I have to confess that I recognise that description when I am facing officials for my briefing, and I shall be sure to ask them to try to increase the wattage of indiscretion and to reduce the incidence of cliché.


My Lords, does the fact that the noble Earl skipped past my speech mean that he is not even going to promise to write to me about the questions which I have posed and which he has not answered this evening?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I have not skipped past his speech; I am coming to it after I have dealt with the speech which was made by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. If, therefore, the noble Lord will be patient his turn will come, although whether he will he happy when it does I cannot say.

On the subject of the vexed question, I know, in your Lordships' House of not having a departmental Minister, may I point out to the noble Earl that we have now got three economic Ministers in this House. Of course, no economic department is independent of energy issues. For example, I was involved the other day in the tripartite conference on coal. I take the noble Earl's point, but I think we are in reasonable touch.

On that subject, the noble Earl drew my attention to what the Government are doing to ensure that coal plays its full part in meeting energy requirements. We are engaged in a review of the future development of the coal industry and we look upon it as an urgent review. The Strasbourg and Tokyo conclusions and the International Energy Authority coal principles underline the importance of promoting our coal industry and form one of the bases for encouraging increased use.

My noble friend asked me how much money the Government are providing for the development of coal liquefaction. We have agreed to provide up to £800,000 towards the cost of design studies for two 25 tonnes per day oil from coal pilot plants. If they were to work out successfully, more money would be made available. My noble friend also asked me whether the Government are to introduce incentives for energy conservation, tax reliefs and penalties. We are certainly attracted to fiscal solutions and my right honourable friend has announced that he is reviewing the balance of our energy conservation programme in that light.

I come now to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He asked me how the Community could make funds available to the fast reactor project in France, given that the Community has not taken up a formal position on fast reactors. The EURATOM loan scheme empowers the Commission to make loans at commercial rates for the construction of nuclear installations. The Community has not yet taken a decision on the fast reactor. It would therefore have been improper for the Commission to show bias one way or the other in considering the application for a fast reactor project. The noble Lord also asked about the report on the operation of the scheme. To the best of my knowledge, there has only been one such report, but I will see whether I am right there.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made the point about low energy strategy. I understand that the working report in favour of an energy efficient society has just appeared and, although I may be wrong here, I think it is associated with my friend—though not in a political sense—Lady Young, the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I will certainly read it. The Government welcome this as an important contribution to thinking on energy plans and scenarios and long-term scope for reducing the rate of growth in consumption in relation to economic growth generally. The Department of Energy Technology Support Unit is also examining, with independent experts, several low energy growth scenarios pre- pared by United Kingdom organisations, so we are taking the noble Lord's points on board.

My noble friend Lord Reay asked me whether the EEC, in agreeing in Tokyo to limit oil imports between now and 1985 to the 1978 levels, were including North Sea oil in those imports. In fact North Sea oil does count as Community oil. The Tokyo Declaration said that for France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom the goal for the ceiling of oil imports in 1985 will be the 1978 figure. We also agreed to recommend to our Community partners that each member State should specify its contribution to the Community's own decision to maintain oil imports between 1980 and 1985 to the level of 1978. I take my noble friend's point that it is not as Draconian as he would like it to be, but it is a fairly considerable move forward.

He and other noble Lords asked me about our general approach to a common or Community energy policy. We will approach this in a positive manner. The main emphasis on a Community energy policy will of course continue to be on the national programmes of member-States. That is in the nature of the character and the structure of the Community, with action at the Community level simply complementing measures at the national level. It is inevitable that there will be some conflicts of interest. Some member-States will show closer concern on various aspects than on others. The position of each member-State will reflect its energy situation and its particular political priorities. The United Kingdom will be ready to explain its national viewpoint and its interests as necessary, but we shall also be ready to consider constructively how the common energy policy might best develop, and we will listen to any proposals for collaborative effort and for action at Community level where that is helpful in complementing our national policies.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, supported combined heat and power. The group on that, under Dr. Marshall, has sent its report to the Secretary of State. It is to be published later this week, and of course the Government will be studying it.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, told us that the crisis was one of a supply of oil. I think if his noble friend Lord Kaldor had been sitting beside him again today he might also have added, " and also an overpowering supply of money on the part of the oil producers ". Certainly I am at least as frightened about the effects on Western economies of the petrodollar surplus as I am of the energy policy as such.

The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, with the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, raised the question of whether railway electrification was going fast enough. The programme of main line electrification is under review by the British Railways Board and the Government, and I will draw the attention of my colleagues to the views which have been expressed and will try to hurry it up. When briefing me the officials put in square brackets—that is to say, not for use—that the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, is well informed on EEC energy research and development. I do not know whether they were congratulating the noble Lord or trying to defend me from his superior knowledge, but I think that remark could be made about many of the things which have been said in this debate, which I have certainly enjoyed, which I have learnt from, and which I will see is fed into the Government machine to continue to inform our energy policy.

10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, first of all, to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this Motion, which they have certainly approached from a diversity of angles. I regret that the debate was pushed back, as so often these European debates are, by pressure of other business. One speaker has had to fall out, and I am all the more grateful to those noble Lords who have put off their dinners in order to speak. I should particularly like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for his very full reply to the debate, the way he has dealt with all the points, and I particularly appreciate his positive approach to policy matters.

The importance of evolving an effective energy policy in Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, mentioned, has been greatly increased by the unfortunate woolliness of current American policy in this field, though we must hope that President Carter's words will eventually be translated into concrete measures. One of the documents before the House was an interim one, and there is a sense in which this debate is also an interim debate for, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, energy policy is bound to be in the forefront of our agenda for a very long time to come.

I have referred to a new wave of documents which is issuing from the Commission. Your committee will scrutinise these with care and, I hope, present your Lordships with appropriate material for renewed discussion when winter comes. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.