HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 c633
19. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the NEDO task force to reach a conclusion about energy prices for industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Norman Lamont

I understand that the task force's report will be discussed at NEDC on 4 March.

Mr. Miller

Will that task force consider, amongst other elements of the pricing of fuel and power, whether there is any element of contribution towards the investment costs of those industries, which in other industries might be expected to be met by borrowing?

Mr. Lamont

That is a matter that the task force might consider. Its main remit is to consider those areas in which there is a disagreement between the Government and industry over the facts of comparisons between countries.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Will the comparisons be made only with EEC countries, or will they be made with, for example, Scandinavian countries as well?

Mr. Lamont

I tried to respond to that point in the debate. It is open to the task force to make comparisons with Scandinavia and the United States, but we envisage that most of its work wil be on comparisons with the EEC, precisely because there is agreement about what the position is vis-à-vis the United States and Scandinavia. We know that we are at a disadvantage, but that usually reflects a fundamental cost difference.

Mr. Moate

Does not the announcement of the task force and of the review of the costs to major bulk users of gas and electricity imply an admission by the Government that many of those industries are suffering a severe disadvantage compared with their Continental competitors? As protests have been made for so long, how quickly can we see some results from these studies?

Mr. Lamont

The report will be discussed in March, and I hope that results and agreement on the issues will follow fairly quickly. It was agreed at the NEDC meeting that British energy costs in general were not out of line with those in Europe, but it was also agreed that there were some specific areas, such as the bulk users—particularly in electricity, but possibly gas—where we were at a disadvantage.