HC Deb 04 July 1988 vol 136 cc717-8
7. Mr. Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is the Government's latest timetable for, the privatisation of the electricity industry.

Mr. Parkinson

I intend to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Colvin

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the mounting opposition to the CEGB's proposals for Fawley B power station and the ancillary coal-importing jetty. It will cost the ratepayers of Hampshire up to £1 million to fight the public inquiry that my right hon. Friend has authorised, when at the end of the day Big G, or whoever then owns Fawley, may not want the power station. Would it not make far more sense to postpone any plans for the public inquiry until after the electricity industry is privatised?

Mr. Parkinson

As my hon. Friend knows, I am in a quasi-judicial position, inasmuch as I shall have to take the decision after the public inquiry has taken place and the inspector has made his recommendation, so I cannot say anything in the House either for or against Fawley. All I can say is that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has found innumerable ingenious ways to make his views on the subject well known, as have many of his constituents.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Is the Secretary of State aware that in communities such as the one that I represent there is concern about the adverse effect of privatisation on the procurement programme for coal-fired power stations? The Secretary of State has announced the first order in the CEGB's declared order programme. Can he say anything about the timing of the remaining coal-fired power station orders?

Mr. Parkinson

One of the features in the future will be that the supply industry will no longer depend only on the CEGB and the CEGB's views about when it intends to order its coal-fired power stations. A number of private generators are already planning to burn coal and are discussing the building of generating capacity.. I believe that as the new situation is understood there will be more orders for coal-fired power stations more quickly, rather than fewer more slowly.

Mr. Gow

When my right hon. Friend is considering the very important subject of privatisation of the electricity industry, will he apply his formidable mind to the timetable for the privatisation of the coal industry?

Mr. Parkinson

I have made it clear that we have ambitions to privatise the coal industry, but we shall not be doing that in this Parliament. There is no reason at all why coal should remain a state-owned monopoly.

Mr. Prescott

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's failure to answer the question about Lord Marshall's commitment to a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, may I ask whether he has read the National Consumer Council report, published last week, about his privatisation plans? It concludes that the plans give little scope for competition and that the consumer is ripe for exploitation with forced exploitation of the moe expensive nuclear energy. Is that not further evidence that privatisation, while good for the right hon. Gentleman's promotion, is a lousy deal for the consumer, and will he reconsider his position?

Mr. Parkinson

As the hon. Gentleman has complimented me on my non-promotion, may I compliment him on being Mr. Scargill's nominee for the deputy leadership of the Labour party. I made clear my position on Hinkley Point C. The inspector is entitled to take whatever evidence he feels is necessary to arrive at his conclusion, and he will seek that evidence.

Mr. Prescott

Answer the question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us all calm down.