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Power Plant Industry

Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to respond to the CPRS Report on the future of the electrical power plant industry.

The Government are carefully considering all aspects of the proposals in the CPRS report and will be responding as soon as possible.

Does the Minister agree that the only way in which we can maintain in this country a viable electrical power plant industry with an export capability is by having a flourishing nuclear industry? Will he have words with the Secretary of State for Energy and remind him that some crucial decisions must be taken on the future of the nuclear industry in this country if the electrical power plant industry is to survive?

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention. All these matters are being taken into account in our examination of the CPRS Report on the electrical power plant industry.

In any consideration of the report, will my hon. Friend make it perfectly clear that the Government's attitude is that rationalisation of the industry will not be made an excuse for substantial factory closures in any part of the industry, with substantial numbers of people losing their work?

The proposal for rationalisation of the industry was one of the five main recommendations made by the CPRS. We are now examining its report. Before any conclusions are reached we shall have the fullest consultation with all those concerned, including particularly the trade unions.

Before the Minister makes the decision, will he put to the House the Government's genuine energy policy? Will he assure the House that there will be no nonsense about building the unnecessary Drax power station without the consent of hon. Members?

The proposal about the Drax B station was again one of the recommendations of the CPRS Report that we are examining. The right hon. Gentleman's question is more relevant to the Secretary of State for Industry. All I can tell him is that this has been fully considered along with all the other recommendations in the report.

Will my hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that we have heard nothing from him today that we did not hear during the last Question Time when his Department appeared? Will he now say that before Easter we shall at least get some progress in regard to export credits, because these are vital to the firms of Babcock and Wilcox and Clarke Chapman which are at the heart of our industrial strategy?

I appreciate the significance of those industries with regard to exports. I can only reiterate what I said beforeā€”that we exclude no option in examining how we can give assistance in respect of exports. My hon. Friend will not expect me to spell out the ideas that we have been examining, but I can assure him that there has been a great deal of discussion on this issue. I am also aware of the urgency of the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has said that it would be some little time before he could make an announcement, but we are aware of the need to make an announcement as quickly as we can.

Does the Minister realise that many thousands of employees at Babcock and Wilcox will not be prepared to wait "some little time" for an announcement?

It is precisely because we are engaged in the fullest consultations on the proposals, which must be wide-ranging and comprehensive, that we cannot produce conclusions before the House quickly. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would prefer us to reach the right conclusion rather than one which perhaps might appeal to him but which would certainly have a devastating effect on employment.

In view of certain developments overseas, which were a disappointment to us and to Babcock and Wilcox, will my hon. Friend press upon his right hon. Friend the imperative nature of getting the Drax B order through as quickly as possible? Will he also bear in mind that only a few short months ago the SNP, which is now speaking weasel words in favour of the workers in Babcock and Wilcox, was asking for a cut-back in the electricity generating programme, which would plunge my local factory into total redundancy?

My hon. Friend has again hit the nail on the head. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend. We intend to produce a report to the House as soon as we possibly can, but I ask hon. Members to recognise that very extensive consultations have to be undertaken. There are many interests involved and we want to get it right.