To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is his most up-to-date estimate of the United Kingdom requirement for flue gas desulphurisation in (a) National Power and (b) PowerGen coal-fired power stations in 1998 and 2003.
I expect flue gas desulphurisation to be retrofitted to 8 GW of power stations as part of measures to meet the sulphur dioxide reductions required by 1998.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I want to know what the Department is playing at. Is the Minister aware that only last year the Prime Minister promised that there would be no increase in imports of low-sulphur coal? Yet the Department is jigging around with FGD reductions in our power stations. It is obviously selling out the environment and the mining industry. The Government have clearly sacrificed the environment and the mining industry on the altar of privatisation, so the Minister should get up there and come off it.
I intend to say this quietly because I want to be sure that the hon. Gentleman hears it. This year, under the contract between British Coal and the generators, the generators will be taking 70 million tonnes of British coal. In evidence to the Select Committee, British Coal estimated that, with 8 GW of flue gas desulphurisation installed, the generators could burn 70 million tonnes of British coal in 1998. In other words, on British Coal's own evidence it will be perfectly feasible in 1998 for the generators, with 8 GW of FGD fitted, to burn exactly the same volume of British coal as they are burning today, if they so choose. More FGD could be retrofitted to meet the target for the year 2003, 13 years away, if the generators felt it appropriate nearer the time.
Is not the key dimension the total amount of sulphur dioxide emissions across the whole of the generating industry and not just a particular sector of it?
Everyone is determined that we should play our full part in reducing sulphur dioxide emissions. We are determined to meet the European Community's large combustion plant directive and to ensure that power stations play their part in meeting the requirement of the reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions, which is what the directive is all about. We shall ensure that the United Kingdom meets the terms of that directive. The Environmental Protection Bill now before Parliament provides statutory powers to ensure compliance with the legislation and the directive.
Now that the Government have chickened out of their commitment to fit flue gas desulphurisation to 12,000 MW of power stations and their privatisation programme is looking like the charge of the electric light brigade, will the Minister say what discussions are taking place with Hanson about the acquisition of PowerGen? What part will chickening out of their environmental commitment play in the Government's discussions with Hanson, which acts as a scrap-metal merchant for large parts of the British economy? Does the Minister accept that privatisation is not so much a holy grail for the Government as the Turin shroud?
The hon. Gentleman was clearly so busy polishing up his phrases for the benefit of parliamentary sketch writers that he did not listen to what I was saying. The Government are determined to meet the European Community's large combustion plant directive, under which certain targets are to be met in certain years. One of the target years is 1998. As I have made clear, on British Coal's own evidence to the Select Committee on Energy, with 8 GW of FGD retrofitted it will be perfectly possible for the generators, if they so choose, to burn exactly the same volume of British coal in 1998 as they do today.