HC Deb 19 June 1974 vol 875 cc463-5
10. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will issue a statement regarding his plans for the future supply and distribution of electricity in Scotland.

Mr. Millan

The detailed planning of electricity supply in Scotland is primarily a matter for the Scottish electricity boards, whose intentions are set out in a statement, "Plans for the Future 1971–78", published in January 1972, and in their annual reports.

Mr. Fletcher

What consultations did the hon. Gentleman have with the South of Scotland Electricity Board before the price of night storage heating was increased by 50 per cent.? How does the hon. Gentleman justify his approval of this gigantic confidence trick? What action will he take to try to improve the situation and also to improve what is clearly the ugly face of nationalised industry?

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman's final comment was rather laboured, and in any case did not arise out of the Question. These tariffs are not subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The tariff increases in Scotland are still a good deal smaller than would have been required to eliminate the deficits which accumulated under the Conservative Government. The question of night tariffs was considered by the two consultative councils and agreed by them, and the unit price increases for off-peak heating are exactly the same as those for heating during the day, so the differential between the two forms of heating has been maintained. In any case, the increases are not nearly as great as they have been south of the border. But I remind hon. Gentlemen that all these matters will be discussed in the House tomorrow and in the Scottish Grand Committee, and I shall be delighted to give even more detailed answers then.

Mr. Adam Hunter

In the light of the coal industry's interim report yesterday, will my hon. Friend ensure that the future of the Scottish coal industry will be taken into account when he is considering Scotland's future electricity supplies? Will he consider consultation with the Department of Energy on the matter?

Mr. Millan

In all these matters we are in consultation with the Department of Energy. The electricity boards in Scotland are already burning all the suitable coal available from the Scottish coalfields, which, like other coalfields in the United Kingdom, will benefit greatly from the plans just announced by the Government.

Mr. MacArthur

Will the hon. Gentleman stop giving these silly and complacent replies? Is he aware that many thousands of people in Scotland believe, rightly, that they are the victims of a confidence trick, having been persuaded by advertising in the past to invest large sums of money in the installation of off-peak heating systems, only now to find that the Labour Government condone a 50 per cent. increase in what was supposed to be a cheap tariff?

Mr. Millan

I do not accept any of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have already replied to these points, but again I remind him that the subject will be debated in the House tomorrow and in the Scottish Grand Committee. I repeat that I do not accept any of the charges he has made.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

In considering the plans for the supply and distribution of electricity in Scotland, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the imbalance in supply distribution between the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, as well as the fact that the benefits of hydro-electric power do not seem to be passed on to consumers in the hydroelectric board's area? Will he ensure that consumers in that area get a better deal in future?

Mr. Millan

The assumptions on which that supplementary question was based are not accurate. Indeed, even with the increases that have just been announced there will be substantial deficits in both the North of Scotland and the South of Scotland areas. These deficits are made up by the Government and therefore, ultimately, by the taxpayers. I wish that hon. Members opposite who are constantly complaining about increasing public expenditure would take into account that even after these increases substantial sums are still having to be provided by the taxpayers to make up for the deficits.

Mr. Sillars

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is sheer humbug for Conservative Members to criticise the electricity boards in Scotland? Does he not also agree that these boards were highly efficient until the introduction of the Counter-Inflation Act, and that Tory Members like the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) forecast then that these efficient industries would become inefficient because of the actions of the Tory Government?

Mr. Millan

If one keeps prices artificially down, one cannot then complain if the nationalised industry boards make substantial deficits. That is what happened under the Conservative Government. We were left with a situation in which substantial increases would have had to be imposed if we were to get these boards back into balance. Certain increases have been imposed, but a large bill will still have to be picked up by the taxpayers.

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