HC Deb 19 December 1983 vol 51 cc8-9
10. Mr. Eastham

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board to discuss energy costs.

15. Mr. Rowlands

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will next meet the chairman of the Electricity Council.

16. Mr. Haynes

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the Electricity Council; and what subjects were discussed.

Mr. Peter Walker

I have regular meetings with the chairman of the Electricity Council and of the Central Electricity Generating Board which cover a range of subjects.

Mr. Eastham

In thanking the Minister for his reply, may I make a special plea that when he next meets the CEGB chairman he will make special reference to the power engineering industry, and especially Trafford park? Will he recommend a refurbishment programme to allow our industry to continue, otherwise it will collapse and we shall have to buy all our heavy engineering equipment abroad?

Mr. Walker

I shall certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's views to the chairman of the CEGB. I will contact the hon. Gentleman when I have done so.

Mr. Rowlands

Having met the chairman of the Electricity Council this morning, will the Secretary of State confirm that if the chairman decides that he does not wish to increase prices the right hon. Gentleman will state that clearly to the Government? Will he further confirm that the Government do not intend to propose any emergency legislation to allow them to compel the Electricity Council to increase prices?

Mr. Walker

I confirm that we do not have in mind any emergency legislation to compel any nationalised board to increase prices. The chairman of the Electricity Council said that he would consider carefully the points made this morning and will give me his views in January.

Mr. Rost

If the electricity industry believes that it can, through internal cost cutting, meet the higher financial targets set for it by the Treasury, why is its arm being twisted to increase prices at all?

Mr. Walker

In fairness, the industry did not firmly state that it could reach the targets. It said that it would endeavour to do so. Moreover, it is perfectly reasonable that the Government should look at a two-year span to see whether any price increases are needed so as to ensure that they take place slowly and steadily and not in a violent jump. Those views have been put to the Electricity Council and will undoubtedly be considered by it.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

As the cost of coal is a major element in the cost of electricity, is it not logical that those who press for reductions or control of electricity prices should examine the position of uneconomic collieries?

Mr. Walker

The cost of coal is a major component in the cost of our electricity. That is why I am pleased that the electricity industry now has the benefit of a better coal contract for the coming period than it had previously. I hope that that trend will continue.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Secretary of State tell the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board that he must present a few facts with regard to electricity as the Secretary of State lost the case on gas while he was in China? Will the Secretary of State tell the chairman that he will resign, or will he go back to China?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman should stop making wholly incorrect remarks. The chairman of the gas corporation will make it clear that any announcement to increase gas prices will be entirely the decision of the corporation. He would take offence at the suggestion that what he announced was not his own decision. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Perhaps he should withdraw what he said.

Mr. Hoyle

On the contrary, I shall merely reinforce it.

Mr. Yeo

In view of the tremendous fuss that appears to have been generated over electricity prices, will my right hon. Friend confirm clearly that, whatever the outcome of the discussions, any increase in the price of electricity will be substantially below the current rate of inflation and substantially below the types of increases to which we were accustomed under the Labour Government? In view of the importance of fuel prices to elderly people, will he also point out that any such increase in price will be below the latest increase in pensions?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Labour Government increased electricity prices every six weeks at the rate at which we might increase them every two years. Moreover, the shadow spokesman on energy matters will be specially interested to know, in view of his past involvement with social security problems, that with the latest 8 per cent. increase in benefits for heating for lower income groups, we shall have improved such benefits by no less than 140 per cent. since we came to power.

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