HC Deb 25 May 1988 vol 134 cc321-2
14. Mr. O'Neill

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has as to how many tons of coal have been imported by the South of Scotland Electricity Board since 1 April.

Mr. Lang

The level of coal deliveries to the South of Scotland Electricity Board is a matter for the board and its suppliers. I understand from the SSEB that around 20,000 tonnes have been delivered to date.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister join me in hoping that those figures will not in any way impede the negotiations between the SSEB and British Coal, as I understand that progress has been made on price and tonnage? Will the Minister assure us that he will give his backing to a deal that will secure jobs in the Scottish coal industry for as long as possible into the mid-1990s?

Mr. Lang

I would certainly welcome a successful outcome to those negotiations, but that outcome must be based on a realistic perception of the competitiveness of British Coal and its ability to enable the electricity board to generate electricity competitively.

Mr. Darling

Is the Minister not taking the role of a disinterested spectator in the negotiations? Is he not aware that unless the coal side of electricity in Scotland is kept up we shall have to depend more and more on nuclear energy, with all the implications that that has for price and safety?

Mr. Lang

I am not uninterested in the negotiations but I do not believe that it is right and proper that we should interfere in them. There is every opportunity for Scottish coal to contribute to the generation of electricity, provided that it is available competitively.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that Scotland is fortunate to have a wide variety of fuel resources? Will he also acknowledge that if the coal industry is to invest in deep mining it requires contracts for a reasonable period or years? Therefore, will he use what opportunity may be available to him to ensure that the SSEB takes a realistic view, as the CEGB has done in the south?

Mr. Lang

I certainly hope that realism will colour the negotiations on both sides. I welcome the signs of increased flexibility over working hours on the part of miners.

Dr. Moonie

It is just not good enough for the Minister to shrug off the negotiations between British Coal and the SSEB as though they were none of his business. He must be well aware of the problems and delays facing the implementation of the plans for the Torness power station. He must be well aware also of the problems at the Hunterston B power station, which is now 50 per cent. closed and must have a large question mark over its future. Surely he sees a role for the Government in promoting a strategic policy for energy production in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

I believe that Scotland is fortunate to have such varied sources of fuel for electricity generation. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Government ought to indulge in the beer and sandwiches approach to the negotiations that got the country into so much difficulty in the late 1970s, I assure him that he is mistaken.