HC Deb 10 May 1990 vol 172 cc381-2
4. Mr. Molyneaux

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has made to the Commission of the European Community for financial assistance for the provision of a natural gas supply to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham

The town gas industry in Northern Ireland is virtually closed down and there seems little prospect of re-establishing a viable gas industry. However, the possibility of burning gas in power stations is being examined in the context of overall energy provision for Northern Ireland and officials of the Department of Economic Development are in touch with the European Commission.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is the Minister aware that buried in the ground in Northern Ireland are 1,600 miles of perfectly good sound pipeline? Is he further aware that it would be comparatively easy to connect the gas supply from Great Britain—in the first instance to industry in Northern Ireland and thereafter to domestic consumers? Can the Minister say how, in the long-term, the Government can defend the exclusion of Northern Ireland from continental sources of energy?

Mr. Needham

We will, of course, accept energy at a competitive price wherever it comes from. The right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that, at its peak, gas only accounted for some 4 per cent. of energy use. To restore the infrastructure to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, which is not in perfect condition, would cost some £300 million, whereas to build Kilroot II would cost £300 million and give us 18 per cent. of our energy requirement. I am afraid that it makes no sense whatever to bring back the natural gas industry in Northern Ireland—either to the domestic or to the industrial consumer—but it is certainly worth considering whether gas can be used for electricity generation.

Mr. Dickens

Will my hon. Friend accept from me, as a former director of a Northern Ireland company, that Northern Ireland industry would very much like a natural gas supply to make it more competitive with the rest of the world and to enable it to stand more on its own two feet —as will become apparent when the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is answered?

Mr. Needham

What Northern Ireland industry needs is competitive energy. However beautiful natural gas may be, if it is very much more expensive than other forms of energy, it makes no sense to bring it back, and I am afraid that that is the position.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister accept that we all wish the Province to have access to the cheapest form of energy for both domestic and industrial consumers? In the Minister's reply to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), he referred to the comparative costs of natural gas and electricity. To put an end to the continuing debate, will he give an assurance that he will publish the basis of the answers that he has already given?' Clearly, the evidence exists. To ensure an open debate, it would be in the best interests of Northern Ireland to publish that evidence and information.

Mr. Needham

Of course, we shall publish the information about the alternatives for electricity genera-tion and energy usage in Northern Ireland. We shall be happy to do that.