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Electricity Generating Stations

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board in order to discuss the ordering programme for electricity generating stations.

It is for the CEGB to decide when to order new power stations. My hon. Friend will be aware that the CEGB has applied for consent for a nuclear plant at Hinkley Point and two coal-fired stations at Fawley and West Burton.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as there will be a three or four-year delay before the generating side is privatised, it is important that we keep the ordering programme for nuclear and coal-fired power stations moving, especially in the light of the early closure of the Magnox nuclear stations?

I believe that it is important that we maintain a steady flow of orders for the electricity supply industry, because we have not had an order for a power station now for eight years and the supply industry has had tremendous problems. As a result of our proposals more people will come forward with proposals to build power stations. That should result in an acceleration rather than a slowing down of orders for the industry.

Does the Secretary of State accept that we found his answer to a previous question in relation to the strengthening of the transmission links between England and Scotland very interesting? Has he discussed the purchase of power from Scottish power stations with the chairman of British Coal so that we may receive a statement and some clarification about the future of coal-fired power stations in Scotland? There is a great deal of uncertainty over their future as a result of the attitude taken by the South of Scotland Electricity Board.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, negotiations between British Coal and the SSEB are under way at the moment. I have made it clear that I want to see those negotiations succeed. I would like to see Scottish pits kept open and Scottish electricity derived from Scottish coal. There is no doubt about where I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland stand on this matter. With regard to the interconnect, I believe that England offers a good export market for Scottish electricity. I hope that the SSEB will take advantage of its opportunities south of the border.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timing of the power stations depends very much on the planning process? Has he noticed that Liberal-controlled Somerset county council has allocated £500,000 to tight the planning aspects and the whole concept of nuclear power on the Hinkley C site? As the rates have been increased by 12 per cent. to fund that, does my right hon. Friend agree that the ratepayers are having to pay for the anti-nuclear prejudices of the Somerset branch of the Social Liberal Democratic Alliance?

It is perfectly proper for the Somerset council to express its views and to ensure that its point of view is put over. We do not want to inhibit that. However, I hope that the council will concentrate on doing that rather than on making party political points about the nuclear power industry. In so far as the council is spending that money to promote political arguments rather than planning arguments, that must be deplored.