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Electricity Supply Industry

Volume 959: debated on Monday 4 December 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends to bring forward a Bill to reorganise the electricity supply industry.

The Government's commitment to reorganisation of the electricity supply industry was reaffirmed in the Queen's Speech. I am considering arrangements for introducing legislation in the light of the Select Committee Report and comments made upon it.

Is not the main reason why the Bill was not successful a long time ago the Secretary of State's insistence on certain parts of the Bill to which there are objections by both unions and management? What is he going to do about it?

No, that is not so at all. The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. It is not my Bill. It is the Government's Bill, brought forward and published on behalf of the Government containing a number of proposals which, among others, are designed to safeguard the rights of the House of Commons. The Government are anxious to proceed with the Bill. I am happy to make it clear that I accept, as I must at this stage, that the implementation of the first order could not occur in this Parliament anyway, so there should be no party controversy in that sense. I am happy to consider constructive amendments arising out of the points highlighted by the Select Committee, but I do not think that, in all the circumstances, the House has any reason to doubt that I am very anxious, as are the Government, to get ahead with the Bill and to invite the House to consider it in Committee, which must mean that it would have a Second Reading.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the present voting situation in the House of Commons, both the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and the trade unions have suggested that a simple Bill on structure alone should be introduced leaving other, perhaps more important, matters to be dealt with in a Bill on more general powers?

No, Sir. I think that my hon. Friend has got it wrong. The Committee recommended that there should be legislation in this Session. It made no recommendation whatever on any of the other matters, though it did highlight them. Given that a number of proposals are being circulated for this industry which my hon. Friend would not support, I am sure he will agree that the Government must have a Bill which they would be ready themselves to support. It is not just a matter of putting the whole business into commission.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a member of Sub-Committee B of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, I am pleased to hear that he will take account of the recommendations that it has made. Is he aware that there is a great lowering of morale in the electricity supply industry over the delay in reorganisation? Will he do his utmost to get the Bill before the House as soon as possible?

Yes, I certainly will. 1 think my hon. Friend will recognise that one of the proposals, namely that the industry should be completely reorganised in favour of power boards, which is a perfectly legitimate argument, would not increase the sense of confidence in the industry nor would the proposal put forward, I understand, on behalf of the Liberal Party, that it was wrong to make a change at all. It would be a gross oversimplification to say that the Government are holding back the Bill. We are anxious to proceed, but, given the fact that we are a minority Government, we require the good will of a sufficient number of hon. Members to give us a Second Reading. If that were the case, the spirit in which we would approach the Committee stage would be the one that I have indicated.