HC Deb 30 June 1982 vol 26 cc886-7
14. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the current relationship between coal output and the generation of electricity by the Scottish boards.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

In the year ended 31 March 1982 coal-fired plant produced 59 per cent. of the output of electricity of the Scottish boards. The Scottish electricity boards purchase 71.6 per cent. of the National Coal Board's output in Scotland.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that if that ratio continues into the foreseeable future it will be essential that the future of the Invergordon smelter is decided, because of the high proportion of electricity that it uses? When can the Minister make that decision, because it is important to my constituents, who produce coal for power stations and factories?

Mr. Fletcher

We hope to reach a decision on the future of the Invergordon smelter within the next few weeks. We are still conducting negotiations with companies. In the event that efforts to reopen the smelter are successful, it is estimated that the coal burn will be three-quarters of a million tonnes higher annually.

Mr. Ancram

Does my hon. Friend accept that coal remains the most important indigenous source of energy available to this country and that that fact must be reflected in any future energy generating programme? Does my hon. Friend further agree that the political posturings of Mr. Arthur Scargill and Mr. Mick McGahey are endangering what would otherwise be a secure future for the coal miners, because the generating industry requires stability of supply?

Mr. Fletcher

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. What is worse, Mr. Scargill damages not only the prospects of the coal industry, but those of the Health Service, too.

Mr. Millan

Does the Minister appreciate that the closure of the Invergordon smelter has resulted in a reduction of no less than three-quarters of a million tonnes of coal consumption by the South of Scotland Electricity Board? Is he also aware that the reopening of the smelter is crucial, not only for the area, but for the coal industry and many other industries in Scotland? Is the Minister further aware that there are disturbing press reports to the effect that most of the potential buyers for the Invergordon smelter have now lost interest and that the power contract on offer is either inadequate or not even specific? Can he say what is happening in the negotiations and give an absolute pledge that the Government will make a full statement on this matter within the next few weeks?

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I are fully aware of the importance of the efforts to reopen the Invergordon smelter. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the biggest single obstacle is the state of the world aluminium market. That is why so many companies have withdrawn from the negotiations. However, there are still two or three companies with which we are in urgent consultation. My right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House as soon as he has full information.