HC Deb 29 November 1965 vol 721 cc1002-7
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

Mr. Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement.

I have now completed my study of the Report into the Inquiry into the FadaFionn and Laidon hydro-electric schemes. The Report is being published today by the Stationery Office and copies have been placed in the Vote Office.

The Reporters conclude that neither of these schemes is needed, at least up to 1975, because adequate capacity will be provided by large new stations which must in any event be commissioned by that time elsewhere in Scotland. They also consider that the cost of the power that would be provided by either of the projected schemes would be greater than the cost of generation by a modern thermal station. The Reporters therefore recommend that neither scheme should be approved.

The assumptions on which such schemes have to be assessed are, of course, subject to change with economic circumstances. Furthermore, there are other factors which may affect the pattern of electricity generation in Scotland arising out of the continuing development of various methods of generation and the fuller exploitation of pumped storage.

Accordingly, although in the light of the Report I am not prepared to confirm these two schemes now, I do not regard this as precluding reconsideration of these schemes at a future date; and, when more information is available about future generation plans, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board will be free to submit them again. In such an event, in accordance with the current procedure for inquiries, objectors will be given an opportunity of putting their views at a fresh inquiry, at which any changes of circumstances in the interval can be taken into account; but the parties will be entitled to rely, if they wish, on evidence already given. I propose, however, to determine now the responsibility for meeting the expenses incurred at the inquiry already held.

The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and other parties to the Inquiry have been informed of the position.

Mr. G. Campbell

Has it not taken a very long time to reach this decision, considering the right hon. Gentleman's impatience and criticism before he came into office, for he has had this Report for over a year? Does not the Report and his decision prove entirely that the inquiry was necessary? Does he recall his own words in the debate on 6th February of last year, when he and his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said that the inquiry was unnecessary and that the delay was a plot to kill these schemes and any further hydro-electric schemes? While the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has done and is doing an excellent job and has contributed greatly to the economy of the Highlands, should not the emphasis now be upon schemes such as the Cruachan scheme recently opened and started under the Conservative Government? This scheme has a capacity of 400 megawatts, about 100 times greater——

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is suspiciously like a speech.

Mr. Campbell

Is not that scheme, with a capacity of 400 megawatts, nearly 100 times more powerful than the Laidon scheme? Has the right hon. Gentleman any more pump storage schemes in mind for the future?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to comment on the delay. He will appreciate that the impatience evidenced by myself and my colleagues, at a time when there was no evidence of action from his side of the House, was because these schemes were first put up in October 1960 and for four years the previous Government could not come to any decision. There was inquiry after inquiry. I am facing the facts as they are today objectively. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a future for pump storage schemes. Indeed, the Hydro-Electric Board at my suggestion has already examined a possible Loch Lomond scheme.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

Is the Secretary of State aware that this decision will be received with shock and disappointment in Ross and Cromarty, especially by those who have been long waiting for a supply and by those who have been looking for employment near their homes? We realise that the rejection of the scheme will receive the approval of the objectors. How can the Government reconcile this decision with the setting up of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, since more electricity will be required? Would the Secretary of State be good enough to tell us what effect this decision will have on the large numbers of potential consumers in Ross and Cromarty who have been long waiting for supply?

Mr. Ross

In relation to the last point, which was also the hon. Gentleman's first point, if he had read the Answer I gave last week he would have appreciated that I have already given authority to the Hydro-Electric Board to spend up to £1 million—that is £1 million extra—per year in linking up remote consumers. We are satisfied that the supply is sufficient until 1975. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the pleasure with which this decision will be received by the objectors, but if he reads my statement again he will find that their pleasure will be considerably qualified.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is clear that the scandalous delay which has occurred occurred before he came into office, namely, under the previous Government, and not afterwards? In his future consideration of this matter, will he take care to ensure that north-east Scotland is not prejudiced in relation to power supplies in any way?

Mr. Ross

I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that supplies for northeast Scotland, particularly Aberdeen, will not be prejudiced. It is worthy of note that the first of the two 120 megawatt sets at Dundee will be opened in December of this year.

Mr. Monro

In view of the recommendation of the Reporters, how soon will the Secretary of State look at this matter again? Will this statement expedite a decision on the siting of the fast breeder reactor in Scotland?

Mr. Ross

It will not necessarily expedite it at all, but this is one of the factors which is taken into consideration. It will, be a matter for the Hydro-Electric Board itself, in the light of changed circumstances, to decide whether it wants to resubmit these schemes.

Mr. Manuel

Will my right hon. Friend note that his statement on these schemes will be received with dismay in many quarters throughout the Highlands? Is he aware that it will be regarded as a victory for the landowning interests who have opposed the schemes? Will he and his colleagues do all they can to ensure that this issue is raised within the Cabinet and that proper regard is paid to the social and economic consequences to these areas presently bereft of electricity?

Mr. Ross

The House should he clear on the matter of areas being bereft of electricity. I have already taken steps to ensure that there will be a speed-up of the connections for remote consumers. I said this in answer to a Question last week.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does not the Secretary of State feel quite ashamed at having made this announcement today, as he and his colleagues fought the last election on a manifesto which said clearly that hydro-electric schemes in the Highlands were examples of public enterprise which should be greatly extended? Can he say that the Highlands and Islands Development Board was consulted about the social consequences of this decision before he made it?

Mr. Ross

If the hon. Gentleman appreciated what my statutory duties were he would realise that I cannot consult anyone in considering the outcome of the inquiry of the Reporters. It is my responsibility to decide "Yes" or "No". If the hon. Gentleman appreciated what is already being done in the Highlands—the new ventures under the Highlands and Islands Development Board—he would realise that we on this side have no cause for shame. It comes pretty ill from a party which stopped these schemes five years ago, under a Prime Minister who did not even know they had been stopped, to now proclaim that it is for them. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have appreciated that the Hydro-Electric Board, despite the wishes of some of his hon. Friends, is still in existence and will carry on with useful schemes to satisfy the neds of the north of Scotland.

Mr. Buchan

The people of the area will ignore the crocodile tears of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can be assured that in considering this decision, which I and, I am sure, many people deplore, he was not bound to the 8 per cent. interest rate figure imposed upon us by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite? Has my right hon. Friend taken into consideration all possible rub-off of development in the area as a result of these schemes. Has he also taken into consideration what would have been the social effect of the schemes in terms of linking up with future development needs?

Mr. Ross

I assure my hon. Friend that I took everything relevant into consideration. The main point which is decisive is that neither scheme is needed until 1975 in view of current generation plans.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last part of his statement suggests that there is some doubt in his mind whether at some future date he may proceed with these schemes? If there is doubt in his mind, has the right hon. Gentleman taken into account the inflationary aspect which means so much in the cost of hydroelectricity after a while, or is this merely window dressing? Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it might have been better to say that the schemes had gone for ever and something else would be put in their place than to leave this doubt in the minds of people in the Highlands who will be greatly disappointed?

Mr. Ross

It would be foolish to say that circumstances will not change both in respect of the cost and of the type of schemes brought forward and it was fairer to the Hydro-Electric Board to put the matter in this way.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must leave that matter now and proceed with the business of the day.