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Cross-Channel Energy Links

Volume 21: debated on Monday 5 April 1982

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what progress has been made in developing cross-Channel energy links; and if he will make a statement.

The CEGB has signed agreements with Electricité de France, approved by both Governments, to install cables of 2,000 MW capacity, which will allow electricity to be transmitted in both directions. A hydrosearch survey of the route is presently being undertaken, and it is expected that the link will be fully operational by 1985.

Does not the Minister accept that this news will be widely welcomed in the coal industry, where this is regarded as a method of exporting coal-generated electricity? When this project is considered, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not shut their eyes to possible further developments of this kind between ourselves and the Continent?

We would not want to shut our eyes to further developments, although this was the most promising. The hon. Gentleman is right to welcome it. It will be of benefit to both France and Britain, and it means that for about a quarter of the cost of building a 2,000 MW power station in Britain, we have the advantage of being able to tap in to the French electricity system at the peak as, indeed, France can also do with British electricity when its marginal rates are high.

Has my hon. Friend noticed the support coming from the Opposition for a gas pipeline between England and the Continent? Will he confirm that the Government will not stand in the way of any such pipeline?

As I think my hon. Friend knows, the problem in Britain at present is not that we have so much gas that we need to consider exporting it, but that we do not have enough to meet home demand. Our present concern is to liberate the gas market so that proper home demand, particularly from industry, can be met.

When does the Minister expect the United Kingdom to be self-sufficient in gas? Will he assure the House that, unless and until we are self-sufficient, there will be no probability or possibility of exporting gas to anywhere on the Continent?

It is the Government's wish—as the hon. Gentleman knows, having served on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill Committee—that the liberation of the market that will take place when that measure becomes law will lead to an increased incentive to bring the gas cut of the North Sea to satisfy British demands. I again reiterate that our concern is with unsatisfied British demand, and at this stage we are not contemplating exports.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while at present we are not self-sufficient in gas, there is every possibility that we could acquire from other sectors of the North Sea—for example, the Norwegians—future gas supplies that would make a cross-Channel link extremely valuable for the re-export of gas?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. The House should know that we have told the Norwegians that we are willing to consider projects for the transmission of Norwegian gas through Britain for onward sale to the Continent.