HC Deb 27 January 1992 vol 202 cc693-4
11. Mr. Harry Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what are his plans to assist with the repair and protection of the electricity supply in the event of severe weather conditions.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Repair and protection of electricity supply in the event of severe weather conditions is the responsibility of each of the regional electricity distribution companies.

Mr. Barnes

That is an inadequate answer, given that more than a year ago there was a severe weather crisis throughout the country, especially in the east midlands district where 2 million people were without supplies, some of them for a considerable period. The Government did nothing and have apparently learnt nothing from the experience. They should have declared a state of emergency and ensured that Bellwin money was made available to councils so that they could take emergency action. Why have the Government learnt nothing from the experience, and why are they proposing to do nothing if a crisis emerges shortly, as it could?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

No distribution network in the world could have survived without damage the severe weather which struck that part of Britain in December 1990, but the regional electricity company concerned, with help from other companies and from overseas, did what it could in the circumstances to connect those who were temporarily cut off. It is an insult to the many managers and workers who responded so well for the hon. Gentleman to imply that they were less than efficient and hard working in those difficult circumstances.

Mr. Sayeed

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the workers in the electricity industry who, despite foul weather and difficult circumstances, managed to restore supplies so swiftly?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The subsequent report on the incident showed that the company, its staff and workers responded magnificently in the difficult circumstances. I do not believe that any more could have been done—certainly not if the company had still been in the public sector.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Will the Minister consider holding a meeting with representatives of Hydro-power, which serves the most isolated communities in Scotland which are subjected regularly to the most severe weather conditions? Is he aware of the severe difficulties experienced in late December and early January when people in remote communities—often elderly people living alone—were without power for more than 48 hours, despite the best efforts of workers to reconnect power? Surely the Government have a responsibility to investigate mechanisms to reduce failures to a minimum.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

No system in the world can be wholly immune to bad weather conditions, but there are always lessons to be learnt. The report into the East Midlands Electricity Company, in the light of the severe storms of 1990, has been made widely available so that other electricity companies can learn from that experience.