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Gas (Northern Ireland)

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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3.31 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the rejection by the Government of the proposals of the gas industry joint working group and the consequences of that for the future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland."
The matter is specific. Last autumn, the Government announced that the project for the purchase of natural gas from the Kinsale field was not to proceed. The then Minister of State added that the Government were not prepared to continue to provide a subsidy for the industry and that since, as he said, the Kinsale project had appeared to offer the only prospect for a viable gas industry, they would have to take stock of the position. He meant that they were preparing legislation to wind up the industry, but he invited representations from the interests involved.

At once, the Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board and the gas trade union group established a joint working group, which produced a plan to rescue the industry. That plan was examined by two independent firms of consultants, which confirmed, first, that it would offer gas to the people of Belfast at a price 25 per cent. below the current price and, secondly, that no subsidy was involved, since over eight years it would be self-financing, with a positive overall profit of £261 million.

That plan was submitted to the Government. On Good Friday, the Minister of State gave his Easter offering to the people of Northern Ireland. He announced that he had rejected the plan and he confirmed that that would mean the end of the gas industry in Northern Ireland.

There is no doubt about the importance of the matter. The closure of the gas industry will cost more than 1,000 jobs in the industry itself, in addition to those which will be placed at risk in industries that depend on gas. The effect on consumers may be demonstrated briefly by the fact that the cost of electricity in Northern Ireland is, admittedly and unashamedly, held by the Government at the price level in the highest-priced region of Great Britain.

In considering whether the matter should have urgent consideration, Mr. Speaker, you may wish to have in mind the timing of the announcement. On Thursday 4 April, the House rose for the recess. On that day, Ministers were answering Northern Ireland questions and hon. Members from Northern Ireland were in the Chamber. If it was not considered appropriate to give the information ir_ answer to a question, there would have been no difficulty in making a statement. No mention was made of the matter. The announcement was made the next day, after the House had risen. It would be difficult to recollect a more calculated or deliberate slap in the face for this House.

I believe that it is not yet too late to save the industry. Clearly, the Government intend those in that and other industries to make any future decisions on the basis that gas as a form of energy will no longer be an option. With every day that passes, the prospect of saving the industry recedes.

I invite you, Mr. Speaker, to permit the House an opportunity to make its voice known before the knife is finally driven home.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss a specific and important matter which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the rejection by the Government of the proposals of the gas industry joint working group and the consequences of that for the future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland."
I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. As he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 10 is to decide whether it should have priority over the business already set down for this evening or for tomorrow.

I regret that I cannot find that the matter that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised meets all the criteria laid down in the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.