HC Deb 02 April 1984 vol 57 cc636-7
8. Mr. Conlan

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on Government policy on the construction of power stations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Giles Shaw)

The construction of new power stations is subject to statutory consent and approvals. In England and Wales, the Central Electricity Generating Board is responsible for bringing forward proposals for new power stations in order to discharge its duty to develop and maintain an efficient and economical system of electricity supply.

Mr. Conlan

Is the Minister aware that, with the end of the work for Heysham 2 and Torness in sight, and in the absence of new orders, the industry is again approaching a crisis? Will the Minister reaffirm that it is the Government's intention to proceed with a steady ordering programme for the industry? Is he further aware that in the absence of such a programme the specialist teams will break up, the industry will decline and the country will then become dependent upon American or other overseas technology for future electricity generation?

Mr. Shaw

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the future of the construction industry associated with power generation plant, but he will be aware, just I am, that this must be regarded as a matter for the CEGB in reviewing its future capacity requirements. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the CEGB will be giving the greatest possible allowance to the importance of the generating construction industry.

Sir Peter Emery

What is my hon. Friend doing to encourage the CEGB to get on with the commercial construction of a fast breeder reactor? Ten years ago we were way ahead of the French, but they are now many moons ahead of us. It is about time we did something to catch up again.

Mr. Shaw

I hesitate to take issue with my hon. Friend, but I do not believe that the French are as far ahead of us as he imagines. The memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it very clear that the pooling of technological information and the results of the considerable experience gained at Dounreay and other places are some of the benefits which the French, among others, may hope to share.

Mr. Benn

Will the Minister give a categorial assurance that plutonium from British nuclear power stations will not be sold to the United States of America for use in the American nuclear weapons programme?

Mr. Shaw

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that that question has been put and answered by my predecessor and others in recent years. It is clear that the arrangements with the United States preclude the use of that material for defence purposes.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Do not current events in the coal industry underline the fact that we should not rely so much on generating electricity from coal, but should ensure that our nuclear programme proceeds without interruption?

Mr. Shaw

I must agree with my hon. Friend. As the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) is aware, the nuclear programme has been largely dependent on the efficient production and use of the construction industry and is coming on stream to time and cost.