HC Deb 05 November 1986 vol 103 cc937-9
2. Mr. Nicholas Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what support he is giving to the British power plant industry; and if he will make a statement on the industry's domestic work load.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Giles Shaw)

My Department is providing substantial support in a number of ways: through financial assistance under the Industry Acts, through our support for innovation scheme, and through assistance on exports. The domestic work load is largely dependent on the ordering programme of the electricity boards, which is a matter for the boards themselves.

Mr. Brown

As the Minister says, I accept that the domestic ordering programme is a matter for his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Energy. Nevertheless, the Department of Trade and Industry is the British power plant industry's sponsoring Department. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the Government have failed to provide a sufficient domestic ordering programme to provide a base load for the domestc industry so that we can compete on equal terms with foreign companies, in foreign markets, and so that the British industry can survive?

Mr. Shaw

I respect the hon. Gentleman's connection with the power plant industry because it is a major producer in his constituency, but he will know that the domestic ordering of the power industry is not within the control of the Department of Trade and Industry. He will know equally that it might help to see the Opposition applying a power policy indicating that nuclear power is to play an increasing role in power ordering. With regard to the Government's investment in assistance to the power plant industry, the hon. Gentleman should know that some £55 million has been invested under the Industry Acts since 1980, and some £164 million on aid and trade proposals, which have led to export orders worth £770 million, which is a very substantial amount.

Mr. Ron Brown

Recognising that many companies, including NEI Peebles in my constituency, have been artificially starved of orders, largely because of the attitude of the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board, will the Minister use his muscle and influence to encourage the bureaucrats to place orders of that type, whether it is coal fired or turbo? That is important. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that scrap and build is an important argument put forward by the trade union movement, because many power stations have antiquated equipment and it is about time that it was replaced?

Mr. Shaw

I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman's advice and put forward a scrap and build programme. He will know that the CEGB is considering the case for new coal-fired stations, but equally he will know that no decision will be made on that until the Sizewell issue has been determined.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that thousands of jobs are tied up in the nuclear power industry and that there has not been an order for a nuclear power plant for more than eight years? That uncertainty has to be resolved shortly if those thousands of jobs are to be protected for the future.

Mr. Shaw

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's point. He will be aware that the results of the Sizewell inquiry are awaited shortly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Williams

The Minister rightly referred to the export performance of the industry. I am sure he will agree that the industry cannot survive on domestic sales alone. He also referred to the support that the Government have given the industry. What does he have to say about the complaint of the industry that in the export markets the financial package is now the crucial factor in determining whether we win or lose an order, and that in that respect the Government are crippling the industry by their abnormally high interest policy?

Mr. Shaw

The right hon. Gentleman is not being wholly fair about that. I took the opportunity to meet the chairman and deputy chairman of NEI recently because I was aware of their restructuring operation. Their presentation showed that the support being offered to help win export orders is quite considerable. I accept that any industrial operator, particularly a heavy plant operator, would want there to be a reduction rather than an increase in interest rates.