HC Deb 31 July 1978 vol 955 cc10-1
4. Mr. Gray

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has had time to consider the Central Electricity Generating Board's corporate plan.

Mr. Benn

I have seen the CEGB's 1978 corporate plan which will be taken into account in reviewing national energy policy. I have already indicated to the board the importance the Government place on maintaining and strengthening the role of coal in generating electricity.

Mr. Gray

Is the Secretary of State aware that in cost forecasting the indication is that nuclear power will become more and more efficient as a source of electrical generation? In the light of the views expressed in the corporate plan by the CEGB, will the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House what has happened to plans for the pressurised water reactor?

Mr. Benn

The answer to the latter part of the supplementary question is that there has been no change. In January I announced that we should be authorising the ordering of two advanced gas cooled reactors and that an option for the PWR would be available. Why the hon. Gentleman should identify our future nuclear programme with an American reactor, excluding the AGR, I do not know. He chose to mention only the PWR and not the AGR.

The general position is that the generating board has put forward its own views in its corporate plan, not the Government's views. The purpose of energy policy's being conducted in public is that people should know what the alternatives are before the Government decide what the policy should be. I have no complaints about the generating board's putting forward its views, but the decisions must be made in a way that is accountable to the House.

Mr. Madden

Can my right hon. Friend elaborate on the reasons why the European Commission chose to intervene in the way that he has described? Can he say what justification the Commission gave for intervening in Britain's affairs in the way that it apparently has?

Mr. Benn

I shall do my best. The Commission evidently decided to interpret the Euratom treaty in such a way as to prevent us from signing an agreement with a Commonwealth country to acquire uranium which this country badly needs for its nuclear programme. Although I took the opportunity of discussing the matter with Commissioner Brunner when he was in London, that view prevailed. In the Government's view—and this was made clear—the Commission is wholly wrong and is acting in a way that is contrary to our national interest and the wider interests of the Community.