HC Deb 04 July 1983 vol 45 cc9-10
7. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received concerning the price disadvantage United Kingdom heavy users of electricity face against some European countries; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

The latest evidence is that energy prices to United Kingdom industry compare well in general with those on the continent.

Mr. Hannam

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some vital industries experience grave disparities compared with similar companies on the continent? Will he consider whether the tariff structure can be tilted to give greater discounts to heavy industrial users of high load electricity?

Mr. Walker

I shall examine the problems connected with energy supply to industry. About 98 per cent. of firms in Britain pay advantageous prices for electricity compared with firms in Germany, Italy and Holland, and the same as firms in Belgium. Only France, mainly because of its nuclear development, can claim to have lower energy prices. I shall examine carefully any particular problems.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Secretary of State re-examine his figures? Is he aware that it is said that electricity prices in Italy are 50 per cent. lower than they are here, in France about 40 per cent. lower, and in Germany 25 per cent. lower? If that is so, does it not place British industry at an unfair disadvantage? Other Ministers have fiddled while electricity has burned. May we have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will not follow their example, but will do something positive so that British industry can compete fairly with other countries in the EC?

Mr. Walker

I dispute the hon. Gentleman's figures. My advice is that prices in Germany and Italy are above prices here. Complaints have been made in Germany and Italy about the advantage that British industry has over their industries. I shall examine the matter carefully.

Mrs. Jill Knight

Does not the use of nuclear power, particularly in France, help to keep power costs low for industry? Will my right hon. Friend see what can be done to bring home to those in the United Kingdom who campaign against nuclear power the disastrous effect that the implementation of their policies would have on industry and, therefore, on employment?

Mr. Walker

France has obtained considerable advantages from the development of its nuclear programme, which is reflected in the prices offered to its industry. Governments of any complexion must examine the possible role of nuclear energy in Britain.

Mr. Rowlands

I have listened for two or three years to the same answers to the same question. Is there not a major gap between sections of industry and the Department of Energy? As the new Secretary of State, will the right hon. Gentleman bring fresh thinking to the issue instead of repeating the stale old answers that we have had for years?

Mr. Walker

I shall repeat stale old answers if they are correct. In the last four years I have spent much time in Germany and other countries. I have read their press and heard their Ministers complain about the advantages that we have in terms of energy prices. Perhaps they, too, should look at their stale old answers.