HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc997-9
6. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the proportion of electricity which it is expected will be generated from coal-fired power stations in Scotland in the years 1986 to 1990.

Mr. Rifkind

I am advised by the South of Scotland Electricity Board that, following negotiations, an agreement has now been concluded with the National Coal Board for coal supplies in 1986–87 and that the approach adopted in these negotiations should allow a stable coal requirement in Scotland through to the mid-1990s.

Mr. Douglas

I have heard many replies from the Secretary of State, but will he concede that that reply was an exercise in obfuscation? The question asked what proportion of electricity supplies would be related to coal burn. Will he reply to that question? Is it not true that he is disclosing a reduction in coal burn and a threat to mining jobs throughout the whole community and particularly in my constituency? Will he concede that the Coal Board is being forced to bring down prices because of oil prices? Will he meet both boards, through the Secretary of State for Energy, to get a rational view of coal burn in the next few years, with particular regard to refurbishing existing stations such as Kincardine?

Mr. Rifkind

I understand that both British Coal and the SSEB are content with the agreement that has been reached. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the at the SSEB has a statutory responsibility to try to ensure that electricity tariffs for its consumers are as cheap as possible. Given the substantial fall in oil prices, both the CEGB in England and Wales and the SSEB have had successful negotiations, which will lead to a continuing substantial use of coal and ensure that coal tariffs—not just for domestic consumers but for Scottish industry—will be at a level compatible with their needs.

If the hon. Gentleman wants electricity boards to use more coal than they need, he is doing a disservice to Scottish industry, which must bear greater energy costs than is the case elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take every opportunity to remind the elderly and those on supplementary benefit in Scotland that, if the Opposition had their way on energy policy, they would get rid of nuclear power and substitute more expensive coal generation? As a result, heating costs would go up by 30 per cent. Does that not show the sheer hypocrisy of their campaign last year when they said that they were concerned about heating costs?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend says no more than the truth. The Opposition must come to terms with the fact that, if they wish to discontinue the use of civil nuclear power in Scotland, they are saying to their constituents and to Scottish industry that electricity costs will go up by between 25 and 30 per cent. [Interruption.] No. My hon. Friend said that the figure was 30 per cent. I am saying that it is between 25 and 30 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman cannot hear properly, that is his problem, not mine.

Mr. Strang

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity categorically to deny the report in today's Daily Record that the Government and the Coal Board are contemplating the closure or Monkton Hall and a major cutback in Bilston Glen collieries? Does the Secretary of State recognise that anything remotely like that would be an act of industrial sabotage against Scotland and would be a criminal attack on employment prospects in Lothian? Will the Secretary of State give a clear assurance that, as long as he is Secretary of State, both those major collieries outside Edinburgh will continue to contribute to our economy and to employment in Lothian?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not responsible for the coal industry. I shall give no such assurance, because it does not come within my area of responsibility. I understand that British Coal has had discussions with the mining unions and has considered areas of concern affecting the coal industry. I understand that no decisions have yet been reached. As a consequence, we must await developments.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be irresponsible, in the nation's interests, not to have a balanced programme on energy, involving hydro-power, oil and coal, as well as nuclear? It is by that balance that the nation is best served. Anyone who suggests that any single area should have priority over others, because of short-term advantages to that area, is not taking the nation's best needs into long-term consideration.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. I suggest to hon. Gentlemen that they read the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, in which he pointed out that failure to use the opportunities offered by civil nuclear power would be disastrous, not only to the United Kingdom and Europe, but to Third world countries, in the years to come.

Mr. Wilson

Is the Secretary of State aware that the export level of electricity to England from Scotland is one third of what it was during the miners' strike last year? In view of the huge over-capacity that exists, and which will be magnified on the commissioning of Torness, what does he intend to do? Will action taken be at the expense of the coal industry, as has been suggested?

Mr. Rifkind

The SSEB has a continuing interest in a healthy coal industry in Scotland. Indeed, it expects to see itself using a substantial amount of coal in the years to come. Clearly its primary responsibility, under statute determined by the Parliament, is to meet the needs of its consumers. It is encouraging that the SSEB sees coal as playing an important part of helping it to meet its obligations.

Mr. Dewar

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not be responsible for the coal industry, but he does have an interest in employment in Scotland. He must be more forthcoming. Is it true, as has been reported to me, that, under the agreement, the SSEB coal burn will be 3.6 million tonnes per annum? If so, does that not represent a considerable drop in current levels, which are around 5 million tonnes per annum? Would not a decrease of 1.4 million tonnes per annum have a significant impact on employment in the coal industry? Does that not underline the fears about pits such as Monkton Hall and Bilston Glen, which have always been seen as having a secure future? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what estimate his Department has made of the impact of such a cut? If he cannot give those figures today, will he find out what they are and report back to the House at the first possible opportunity?

Mr. Rifkind

I have not yet seen the detailed figures arising from an agreement between the SSEB and British Coal because that agreement has only been concluded in the recent past. The SSEB has made it abundantly clear that it wishes to continue using significant and substantial amounts of coal. It is likely that its demand for coal will be less than it was, because of this agreement. That would follow the pattern of agreements reached elsewhere in the United Kingdom with the Central Electricity Generating Board. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that it is the board's duty to meet the interests of the Scottish public and Scottish industry. If it had failed to meet that duty, I believe that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to complain on behalf of Scottish consumers.

Mr. Douglas

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. In view of the inadequacy of the reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.