HC Deb 22 March 1976 vol 908 cc17-9
13. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next plans to meet the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board.

Mr. Eadie

My right hon. Friend met Mr. Hawkins last Friday on a visit to Aberthaw and Hinkley Point power stations, and he is frequently in touch with him.

Dr. Cunningham

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is the Secretary of State for Energy discussing with the Chairman of the CEGB the use of so-called benign sources of energy for electricity generation? In that connection, will he say what view the CEGB takes on the recent statement by the Energy Technology Support Unit on the contribution of benign sources to meet our power needs by the year 2000?

Mr. Eadie

My right hon. Friend is actively concerned and involved in these matters. The Energy Technology Support Unit has undertaken work on the use of benign sources at some CEGB installations. The Board recently invited me to visit one of the installations to see its work. Although it is important that we have these sources, we should not exaggerate their likely impact on the economy.

Mr. Benn

I agree with most of the points made by my hon. Friend. Contracts were entered into some time ago, and the circumstances have changed. I have made it absolutely clear to the Central Electricity Generating Board that I hope to see imports greatly reduced. Discussions are taking place between the two Boards. The CEGB has undertaken not to engage in further imports without consultation with the National Coal Board. I have set up working parties to see whether we can achieve more conversions to coal and stimulate our coal trade exports.

Following are the figures:

We must realise that we are talking, I think, about only 8 per cent. of the total.

Mr. Conlan

When the Minister next meets the Chairman, will he impress upon him the fact that unless the CEGB ordering programme for new power stations is revised we shall have no boiler-making capacity left in this country after 1978? Is he aware that highly skilled teams are beginning to break up, that many of those teams are going abroad, and that in the 1980s the CEGB will have to depend on highly sophisticated equipment, with all the maintenance that that entails?

Mr. Eadie

My right hon. Friend has mentioned his concern from the Dispatch Box. We are well aware of this problem. Discussions have taken place with the industry to try to deal with the problem. One of the troubles has to do with the use of energy. Demand has contracted considerably. This is creating problems.

Mr. Rost

When the Secretary of State next meets the CEGB Chairman will he take the Under-Secretary with him so that the hon. Gentleman may get a firsthand briefing about the accuracy of the statistics that I quoted earlier, about the CEGB's being bottom of the European league for thermal efficiency, heat and power production, so that the Under-Secretary will not give me inaccurate answers, conveying the impression that I was giving inaccurate statistics?

Mr. Eadie

If I misled the hon. Gentleman in any way, I apologise. I hope that he will accept that apology in the spirit in which it is given.

Mr. Palmer

Will my hon. Friend tell us whether, when his right hon. Friend was at Hinkley Point, he discussed with Mr. Arthur Hawkins the possibility of a Severn barrage, which would be a potentially benign source of power?

Mr. Eadie

Not that I am aware of. No doubt my right hon. Friend will write to my hon. Friend if he had such discussions.

Mr. Lawson

When the Secretary of State meets the Chairman of the CEGB may I ask him to make it clear—irrespective of any need for scraping together a few votes from hon. Members from coalmining constituencies—that he will not interfere with the CEGB's desire, on commercial criteria, to assist the electricity consumer by importing cheaper coal where this is shown to be possible?

Mr. Eadie

As far as I know my right hon. Friend does not have any miner constituents. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's comments about "scraping" votes applies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the question that he has just posed. He is suggesting that we should risk contracting our indigenous coal industry to obtain coal from abroad which might not be there when we need it. That would not be an energy policy; it would be lunacy. We must have a large indigenous coal industry.