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Electricity Privatisation

Volume 175: debated on Monday 25 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next proposes to meet the chairmen of the area electricity distribution companies to discuss privatisation.

I meet regional electricity company chairmen regularly to discuss a range of matters.

In the light of recent precedents, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that, should he in the near future find himself out of a job, neither he nor any senior members of his Department will go running to take places on the boards of any distribution companies?

I have two answers to that question, neither of which will be satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman. First, it is a hypothetical question, and secondly, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said on the subject.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of East Midlands Electricity, will he ask him how the new project at Bilsthorpe colliery in my constituency for a high-efficiency, mini power station is getting on and when East Midlands Electricity, together with British Coal, will be able to announce a starting date with Government help?

I have met the chairman of that regional electricity company on several occasions, and I have no doubt that he will raise that subject when I next meet him. We are looking at the figures, and it is important to examine the economics in particular.

When the right hon. Gentleman meets electricity company chairmen in the east midlands and elsewhere, will he point out that there is serious concern about the high cost of nuclear power and about the revelation today that Sizewell will cost another £1 billion, making the total cost £2.6 billion? Will the right hon. Gentleman also point out that it would be better to use coal because it is very difficult to get rid of nuclear waste? That is especially true of low-level nuclear waste, as the right hon. Gentleman experienced when he was Patronage Secretary and had to get Tory Members to stand up in protest about nuclear waste being dumped in his own constituency.

The hon. Gentleman's recollection of history is not very accurate. Nor should he believe everything that he reads in the newspapers, even the headlines of some of our better-known journals. I suspect that the question of nuclear costs will come before the House before long.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that privatisation has been a success for many industrial users because it has introduced price competition between distributors and generators? Does he agree that the only reason why Labour opposes privatisation is that it would like to see industrial users pay more for their electricity?

I hope that better reasons will be given in this afternoon's debate for the Opposition being against privatisation, but we shall be able to deal with all that they have to say.

I suppose that the Secretary of State realises that one electricity-rated company now in the state sector from which he cannot expect a job offer is Nirex. Does he agree that if the privatised area distribution boards are compelled to abide by normal stock exchange rules, which say that a company's audited accounts must be available going back five years or more, and which, with restructuring, the new companies do not have, it will be impossible to flog those companies? The only way of persuading the "Sids" to buy shares in them would be by a mass advertising campaign that would make the Albanian dictatorship at its Stalinist height or even Lord Young when at the Manpower Services Commission blush.

There were a lot of words in that question, but getting down to their fundamentals, I assure the hon. Gentleman that all the stock exchange rules necessary for the flotation of the regional electricity companies will be obeyed to the satisfaction of the people who have responsibility for those matters. Of course, there will be an element of advertising, as there has been in all privatisations. That will be beneficial in ensuring that the taxpayer gets value for money.

Mr. Marshall. I call the hon. Member because I thought that I saw him rising to his feet. If he does not want to ask a question, we shall move on.

I am always happy to oblige, Mr. Speaker, by asking a question. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that previous privatisations have been followed by increased investment and effective control of prices than before, and that electricity consumers can look forward to a good future under privatisation of that industry?

My hon. Friend is right. Not only will customers benefit from privatisation but so will taxpayers and those employed in the industry.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) if he was merely taking his place.