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Electricity Privatisation

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the implication for coal burn from Scottish mines of the Government's decision to exclude nuclear power stations from their privatisation proposals.

That will depend on commercial decisions to be taken by the South of Scotland electricity board.

Will the Minister be a little more forthcoming about what is happening to coal burn? We now have only one effective Scottish pit and its future depends on securing its outlet to the Longannet power station. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that an agreement will be concluded soon between the SSEB, or what remains of it, and British Coal to ensure the continued employment of at least one deep mine coal complex in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a great deal of competition to coal in Scotland. That competition comes not only from nuclear power, to which his question is addressed, but from gas; and the competition from gas will increase.

Recently £70 million has been invested in Longannet. I visited the pit fairly recently and morale is growing, with some reason: the pit is attaining record output per man shift and hitting good seams of coal. There is everything to play for at Longannet. Scotland has a rich diversity of fuel sources and the coal industry must compete against them.

Will the Minister reflect on that answer? He must be well aware that in Scotland we are currently locked in a legal battle in the courts over precisely what the coal burn should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) spoke about Longannet, but I have a constituency interest in Monkton Hall colliery. That colliery is mothballed and whether it will be resuscitated depends on the coal burn and on the outcome of the present legal wrangles. Will the Minister be a bit more positive instead of standing back and saying that it is a matter of commercial decisions reached by the people involved? He should say that he will do his best to see that the legal wrangles are resolved so that we know what the coal burn will be in Scotland.

If I followed the hon. Gentleman's advice to see that the legal wrangles were sorted out, he would accuse me of interfering in the courts. The courts are currently sitting and I understand that they will pronounce on the matter soon. We must await their decision. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to intervene in the affairs of the courts. If I did he could accuse me of intervening in the judiciary.