HC Deb 26 November 1992 vol 214 cc971-2
2. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on energy policy in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Atkins

Northern Ireland's strategic energy objectives are energy efficiency and the clean production and use of energy, lower costs and the protection of consumer interests, diversification of supply and security of supply.

Mr. Bruce

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what plans he has to privatise electricity in Northern Ireland, and whether he believes that privatisation will bring down the price of electricity both for individual consumers and for industry?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, four power stations completed the first phase of privatisation earlier this year. I had the opportunity to visit one of them and I was most impressed with the achievements of the consortium involved. Clearly, privatisation will produce more competition and improve energy efficiency, and I am sure that the continued plans to privatise Northern Ireland Electricity will be successful. I hope that shares will be made available to a wide range of the public, which will allow them to participate properly in the ownership of Northern Ireland Electricity, as opposed to its being a state-run body.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister accept that in the past electricity subsidies to industry were part of our incentive packages? Does he share, or recognise, the concern of high energy using industries in Northern Ireland that the foreseeable increases in their electricity costs may put them out of business, and put out of a job all the people whom they employ? Will the hon. Gentleman go further than he has done to date to protect industry in Northern Ireland from unreasonably high future electricity costs?

Mr. Atkins

With his experience, the hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone that the position in Northern Ireland is unusual, in that we do not have competition from gas—although we have hopes of that in the not-too-distant future—and, as we are a peripheral part of the United Kingdom, there are some troubles involved in the provision of energy. I am aware of the problems experienced by some large users, although, as the hon. Gentleman will also be aware, I have managed to obtain a two-year deferral of the implementation of those costs and have invited the companies concerned—incidentally, some of those companies will benefit, although I know that others will not—to take the matter up with the regulator in due course.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend agree that for privatisation to work properly there must be competition? What plans has he for restoring the electricity interconnector with the Republic and establishing the interconnector with Scotland?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend will know that the interconnector with the Republic has suffered from terrorist activity and has not been operational for some time. Plans are afoot to deal with the problem by way of alternative connections across the border with the south in other parts of the Province.

With regard to the interconnector with Scotland, we await further confirmation from Commissioner Millian, who came to see us in Northern Ireland not long ago, when we discussed the necessity of a grant. We hope that we shall receive information about that in due course, when we shall be able to implement the physical and energy aspects of that most important connection with the mainland.

Mr. Stott

As I understand it, the interconnector is due to be completed and in place by 1996. According to the Action Group on Northern Ireland Electricity Prices, that interconnector will be used only by Scottish Power and Northern Ireland Electricity for 10 or 15 years, so companies that use 1 MW or more will not have the opportunity to make individual contracts with any other Great Britain supplier. If that is true, how can the Minister claim that the Scottish interconnector will in any way increase competition with Northern Ireland Electricity?

Mr. Atkins

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are two interconnectors. There is the gas interconnector, which will provide competition. Clearly, the operation of the electricity interconnector is a matter for Northern Ireland Electricity, in co-ordination with Scottish Power. If the hon. Gentleman has particular points to make, such as the one that he has enunciated today, I should like to know more about them, because that is certainly not my understanding at present.

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