HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc738-40
Q2. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Secretaries of State for Industry, Energy and Employment in the implementation of measures to ensure the survival of the power plant industry in the light of the CPRS report.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the level of unemployment in my constituency and in those around it on Tyneside which depend on C. A. Parsons Limited and Clarke Chapman for part of their industrial prosperity? Is he further aware that the placing of the Drax B order, following the consultation process, is critical to my constituents, 900 of whom face redundancy in the near future? Does he realise that long-term discussions about mergers should not be used to hold up this decision?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is persistent in his questions on this matter, and with every justification. I am aware of the importance of the Drax B order. This is clearly bound up with the discussions taking place among the Departments concerned, the turbine manufacturers and the boilermakers. All of these are linked. I can promise my hon. Friend that a decision will not take many months, as may have been suggested. There has to be proper consideration when many thousands of jobs are involved together with substantial capital investment. We shall take the proper time, but no more, to reach a conclusion

Mr. Rost

Rather than provide subsidies to build power stations that we do not need at present, would it not be more sensible to provide the incentives for the industry to develop export markets to cater for world demand that does exist?

The Prime Minister

Building power stations that we do not require is not the whole of the problem. There is also the question whether we should seek to retain —in my view we should—a power plant industry. That is equally important. The power plant industry may require domestic orders if it is to secure export orders. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it may well be that if we are to get into the world league for exports of this plant he should not take such an antediluvian view about this. We shall need considerable rationalisation to create units large enough to compete.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people, and almost certainly all those in the mining industry, including those who represent it here, want to see the fulfilment of the Drax B project as quickly as possible? Will he bear in mind that some of us are concerned about the stories circulating in Parliament and outside about the way in which Arnold Weinstock is using his muscle to get the contracts and push out Parsons while making conciliatory gestures in respect of Meriden? Can my right hon. Friend shed a little light on that matter?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe more than about 10 per cent. of the stories I read in the newspapers, and I advise my hon. Friend not to do so either. As for the coal-fired stations, I have always been a believer in using our indigenous resources as far as we can. I have a record on this. I certainly promise my hon. Friend that the matter will be taken very fully into consideration.


Mr. Mike Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to me at Question Time, my right hon. Friend used the word "months" in connection with problems that are affecting my constituency most seriously. If "months" is the word that he intended to use, it will create great anxiety in my constituency. May I give him this opportunity to clear the matter up?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman really means, will I give the Prime Minister the opportunity? I do not see any movement on the right hon. Gentleman's part.