HC Deb 22 April 1993 vol 223 cc505-6
9. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from private companies in Northern Ireland regarding new electricity generating capacity.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I have received a number of representations, but the responsibility for new generating capacity rests with Northern Ireland Electricity plc.

Mr. Foulkes

Could the Secretary of State clear up a mystery for me? Why is it that he and his junior Minister seem to favour an interconnector—which will scar my constituency—that will bring electricity from Scotland to Northern Ireland more expensively than cheaper electricity generated in Northern Ireland by lignite, coal or gas? What is the hidden agenda of the Northern Ireland Office on this matter?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The thinking of the Northern Ireland Office is that it will be a good thing if we can get some competition in the supply of electricity and the supply of fuel for electricity. The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are 70 per cent. dependent on oil. That is why we want an interconnector to bring electricity from Scotland and that is why we shall have a gas interconnector, as requested by the hon. Gentleman. Northern Ireland Electricity will certainly take into account the claims of lignite when it starts the competition for the supply of further generating capacity, which it will need towards the end of this century.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my right hon. and learned Friend, when considering this matter, bear in mind the advantages to Scotland should an interconnector be put in place? Will he also bear in mind that many of us would like him and many of his colleagues in the Cabinet to look at European funds, which we see as our money, and get them back for the United Kingdom, if we can? The cost of an interconnector would be an admirable reason for receiving money from the cohesion fund or other funds.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am glad to confirm to my hon. Friend that the European Community will contribute 35 per cent. of the cost of the electricity interconnector, if it receives the necessary planning permission. That fits in extremely well with the EC policy for trans-European networks. On that ground and on others, I believe that there are advantages for Northern Ireland and I am very glad to hear that there are also advantages for Scotland.

Mr. William Ross

Does the Secretary of State understand that although we regret the steady increase in electricity costs—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. The hon. Gentleman has the right to be heard in the House.

Mr. Ross

Perhaps the microphone is not working. We welcome the fact that, although the electricity costs are increasing, the Secretary of State has been able to phase them in over a much longer period than was previously thought. Because Northern Ireland depends upon electricity to such an extent, and given our need to use the cheapest possible sources of electricity, will he ensure that whenever the possible use of lignite is considered it will be allowed to compete on a level playing field?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The answer is yes. The hon. Gentleman is right in that there is considerable advantage in the phasing arrangements that I have announced. They will apply not only to large industrial users but to all 4,000 industrial users right across the board, not for two but for four years. So, as he acknowledges, that is a considerable alleviation. Also, nobody will have to pay more this year than a single figure increase.