HC Deb 19 July 1976 vol 915 cc1262-4
6. Mr. Palmer

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the Plowden Report on the reorganisation of the electricity supply industry.

13. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to conclude his consideration of the Plowden Report on the organisation of the electricity industry; and if he proposes to introduce appropriate legislation in the next parliamentary Session.

Mr. Benn

The Government are still considering the report. We recognise the need to end the present uncertainty in the industry, and proposals will be brought forward without unnecessary delay, but any Bill to reorganise the electricity supply industry will have to compete with other claims on legislative time.

Mr. Palmer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the report has now been with him for some months and that delay is unsettling both for the management of the industry and for the trade unions? Would it not be as well, whatever my right hon. Friend's view of the Plowden recommendations, to issue a White Paper fairly soon?

Mr. Benn

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, although in an article which he wrote in February he recognised that I would need time to consider the recommendations. It is a very large piece of reorganisation that is proposed, including the abolition of all the statutory distribution and supply boards, and it would very much impact upon relations with the Government. I ask my hon. Friend to give me a little more time for discussions, but I shall bear in mind the point he has raised.

Mr. Rost

Has the Department considered the part of the report which suggests that the electricity supply industry has not been using its fuel as efficiently as it should because it has not done enough to promote a satisfactory power scheme? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for this reason Plowden has recommended that there should be changes in the industry?

Mr. Benn

Every part of the report has been discussed. Dr. Walter Marshall, my chief scientific adviser, is examining the heat and power point that the hon. Gentleman makes very much his own in questions, and I respect him for doing so. We expect Dr. Marshall's report later this year, but, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, any change would be a fairly major one and immediate results cannot be expected.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the secretaries of the EPTU and the Electrical Power Engineers Association have anxiety about the shortage of senior executives on the Electricity Council? Is he aware of their keen anxiety that the present uncertainty should be resolved as speedily as possible? Therefore, will he reconsider the answer he gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) and place before the House at least the expectation that we can have legislation on the Plowden Report next Session?

Mr. Benn

I have already dealt with the legislative point. By the normal methods that Ministers adopt, and not being able to anticipate the Gracious Speech, I cannot go beyond what I have said. I saw the letter in The Times. I discussed appointments with the two joint authors of that letter beforehand. I have discussed the whole question of the Government's approach to Plowden with the unions and with the industry. I think it is fairly widely understood that a change of this magnitude, which would involve the abolition of all the statutory boards in the various regions of the country, would need to be considered carefully, especially in the context of devolution, where the desire has been for decisions to be taken closer to the areas that are affected. In those circumstances, I think that I am entitled to take a little more time. I have pointed that out to Mr. Prior, who is the full-time member of the Electricity Council with responsibility for industrial relations, and to Mr. Richardson, who is a part-time member.