HC Deb 20 February 1984 vol 54 cc550-1
8. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will outline his timetable for privatisation within the energy industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am of course examining the scope for transfers to the private sector in the state-owned energy industries. I will inform the House in due course of my conclusions.

Mr. Marlow

Since, as my right hon. Friend just said, the coal industry is costing everybody in work in this country nearly £1 per week, does he have any plans for privatising it, and if not, why not?

Mr. Walker

I do not believe that the coal industry at the present time is in a situation in which we can consider privatisation. The important thing is to ensure that one takes advantage of the massive investments being made in order to produce an efficient and economic industry. That is what we are doing.

Mr. Lofthouse

When does the Secretary of State expect the sale of the Wytch farm oilfield to be completed? Does he support the stand of the British Gas Corporation in refusing to sign and complete the arrangements abroad, given that such completion would deny the Government £3 million in stamp duty? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that that asset, and any other assets, will be sold only at the full economic value? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a letter sent by his predecessor, advising the BGC to sell the Wytch farm oilfield to the Dorset bidding group at less than the full economic value?

Mr. Walker

I expect that completion of the Wytch farm sale will take place within a very short period of time. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, I know of no such objections by the BGC. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the BGC has been negotiating with the group that put in the highest tender.

Mr. Renton

With his customary vigour, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, by the time of the next election, the domestic consumer has more than one choice as to where to buy his electricity or gas? Is my right hon. Friend aware that natural gas is still not available to many hundreds of houses in my constituency and that the local gas board has no plans to make it available? Surely the consumer would welcome competition in the industry, just as he welcomes it in British Telecom.

Mr. Walker

It is highly unlikely that two supplies of gas and two supplies of electricity would be available to individual domestic consumers anywhere in the world. There are not many free enterprise countries—certainly not Japan, America, Germany, for example — where there are two such options. I am certainly in favour of those industries being as efficient as possible. Under the 1983 Act, anyone is entitled to set himself up as a supplier, in competition, if he so wishes.

Mr. Allen McKay

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)? The right hon. Gentleman spoke about there not being privatisation at the present time. Does that mean that he intends to privatise the industry at some future date?

Mr. Walker

I have made it clear several times from the Dispatch Box that I should be willing to consider any offer by the miners to form a workers' co-operative. If at any stage they wish to do that, individually or collectively, I shall be interested in considering it.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although a change of ownership is necessary, the overriding need is for greater diversity of competition? Will my right hon. Friend therefore be cautious about privatising such industries without first removing their privileges.

Mr. Walker

I shall carefully examine any privatisation proposals to discover the advantages and disadvantages. I know that my hon. Friend, with his knowledge of the industry, will recognise that there is little likelihood of each household in his constituency being offered two gas supplies and two electricity supplies. That is the reality. Certainly one could have a system which is far less bureaucratic, less subject to political interference and with more incentive to efficiency than the present system.

Mr. Mason

Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that he has no intention of privatising deep coal mine output? Can he now tell the House what he has in mind for privatising ancillary activities?

Mr. Walker

I repeat that at present I have no plans for the privatisation of the coal industry—certainly in the foreseeable future. The long-term future is a matter to be considered in the future. If we could put the coal industry in a position so that we could find a better system of ownership in the interests of the country, I should like to pursue that.

Mr. Rathbone

When encouraging or attracting private capital to present operations, will my right hon. Friend encourage the suppliers of energy to report their performance in return-on-investment terms, which are more comparable with the normal private sector measurements than the terms presently used?

Mr. Walker

Yes. That is a valid point which we shall look at.

Mr. Orme

Are the electricity and gas showrooms included in the Secretary of State's timetable for privatisation?

Mr. Walker

I have no specific timetable or proposals for privatisation at present. I am examining all the prospects, and I shall be delighted to inform the House as soon as conclusions are reached.