HC Deb 13 June 1991 vol 192 cc1032-3
9. Mr. Dickens

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the process of the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity.

Mr. Needham

Work is progressing to implement the proposals set out in the White Paper.

Mr. Dickens

Since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom—an important part—are not the people and industry of Northern Ireland entitled to cheaper electricity? Would not the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity provide an opportuntity for a link between Northern Ireland and Scotland, plus an entry into the national grid, so that competition could bring to the people of Northern Ireland and their industry cheap electricity, which has been lacking for years?

Mr. Needham

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that an interconnector between Northern Ireland and Scotland would be of immense benefit to Northern Ireland consumers, both commercial and domestic. It would connect Northern Ireland to the Scottish system; through Scotland, it would be connected to the English system and, through England, to the French system. Therefore, we shall do everything we can to try to promote an interconnector.

Mr. Alton

In answering the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), the Minister did not say whether electricity in Northern Ireland would be cheaper. Will not electricity in Northern Ireland become more expensive as a result of the proposals? Having united every party in Northern Ireland in opposition to his plans, does the Minister accept that it would have been far better to introduce a Bill, which could have been amended and debated in the normal way? The democratic process could then have reflected the views of those who live in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham

Electricity in Northern Ireland costs, on average, some 30 per cent. more than in the rest of the country, so it is very expensive. One of the reasons is decisions made in the past. The system is not competitive in generation or in any other aspect. The introduction of competition is crucial to ensuring that prices in Northern Ireland are kept as low and as competitive as possible. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's remark that the Government's proposal will raise electricity prices, because the introduction of competition will keep them lower than they would otherwise have been.

Mr. Bellingham

Will there be a possibility, in the medium to long term, of members of the public owning shares in that company?

Mr. Needham

The Government have proposed a transmission, distribution and supply company, which we hope to be able to float. Most important, we want the people of Northern Ireland to be able to purchase shares in a utility in Northern Ireland, rather than having to participate in share schemes in Scotland or elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Beggs

Has the Minister had an opportunity to refer to column 418 of Hansard on 16 May 1991, when the Treasury Minister replied to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Minister for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross)? He said that it was inconceivable that the employees of Northern Ireland Electricity and the citizens of Northern Ireland would not have an opportunity to buy shares in their own industry. Does the Minister agree with his hon. Friend or is the splitting up of Northern Ireland Electricity causing a split in the Conservative party?

Mr. Needham

So far as the transmission, distribution and supply company is concerned, of course I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the Minister confirm that at its meeting on 3 May, the board of Northern Ireland Electricity decided to sack its chief executive? Why did the Government think it necessary to seek a reversal of that decision?

Mr. Needham

The Government did not seek any reversal. The Government do not interfere in Northern Ireland Electricity. The first that I knew of this was an article that I read in the Belfast Telegraph, suggesting that the information had been received by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Perhaps they can explain where they got this information and why they are interfering in the affairs of Northern Ireland Electricity.

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