HC Deb 07 November 1988 vol 140 cc4-5
3. Mr. Franks

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board; and what matters he expects to discuss.

Mr. Parkinson

I regularly meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board to discuss a variety of issues.

Mr. Franks

Will my right hon. Friend note the case of the Roosecote power station at Barrow-in-Furness, which was decommissioned by the CEGB in November 1986 and for which private sector tenders were invited in February with an April deadline for decision by September? Will my right hon. Friend inquire which September the chairman had in mind and whether it is to be before or after privatisation of the industry? Will my right hon. Friend also inform the chairman that failure to maintain a station, as well as being neglect of a public asset, is a highly effective means of frustrating private sector competition?

Mr. Parkinson

I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the tenders have been reviewed, the group which is to take the station has been identified and final negotiations about terms of the contract are now under way.

Ms. Quin

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman of the CEGB, will he discuss the need to avoid over-reliance on coal imports, especially in view of the worsening balance of payments?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes. I believe that British Coal has a very good opportunity to secure the overwhelming proportion of our coal market. That is why the Government have provided more than £9 billion for the industry since we took office and why more than £6 billion has been invested in modernisation so that our industry can produce competitive coal and hold its own in the market place.

Mr. Hannam

In view of the concern about acid rain and pollution from coal-fired power stations, will my right hon. Friend discuss the matter with the chairman of the CEGB, particularly with regard to measures being carried out for the control of emissions? Can he give us any idea of the level of carbon dioxide emission from coal-fired power stations and how much expenditure on control is planned for the next few years?

Mr. Parkinson

In 1985, the last year for which records are available, 235 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere from our fossil fuel stations. We believe that a substantial programme is needed to clean up emissions. That is why the CEGB has already embarked on a very substantial programme, and more will follow.

Mr. Blair

No doubt the Secretary of State will be discussing electricity privatisation with the chairman of the CEGB. Is he aware of reports suggesting that the Government plan a special tax after privatisation to make nuclear energy attractive to private investors? Will he deny unequivocally that any such plans exist? If not, will he explain why the demands of privatisation rank above the interests of the 22 million captive consumers of electricity?

Mr. Parkinson

I begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his election to the shadow Cabinet and expressing the traditional hope that he will spend many happy years on the Opposition Front Bench.

We have a declared policy that 15 to 20 per cent. of our electricity will be supplied from nuclear sources because we believe that diversity of supply is essential to security. There will, therefore, be a nuclear component. The question of nuclear economics is extremely hard to settle. We are talking about building power stations which will still be operating 45 years from now. No one expects fossil fuels to maintain their present prices for more than a few years, so in the next few years what the hon. Gentleman regards as a nuclear burden could well become a nuclear contribution. The Government are determined to ensure that we have a sufficient nuclear component in our electricity supplies.

Dr. Michael Clark

During my right hon. Friend's meeting with the chairman of the CEGB, did he discuss the future closure of Dounreay? Were any plans put forward for job creation schemes in that part of Scotland, bearing in mind that many people will be made redundant? Did he also discuss the continuation of the high-technology research for which Dounreay is famous?

Mr. Parkinson

As my hon. Friend knows, I announced the Government's policy on the fast reactor a few months ago. We have recognised our obligation to Caithness and Sutherland by ensuring that Dounreay will be phased out over a long period. Indeed, there will still be substantial employment at Dounreay for the next eight or nine years and, after that, continuing employment for about one quarter of the labour force.

It is clear that there will be no need for such technology in 30 to 40 years' time. Indeed, there is no way that Dounreay could be kept open for the whole of that time, because the nuclear reactor itself has, at the outside, a life of only about 10 years. We are maintaining our commitment to Dounreay and maintaining a substantial position in fast reactor technology. After Dounreay closes there will be a core research programme to ensure that we maintain our position in that technology.

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