HC Deb 19 May 1993 vol 225 cc232-4
9. Mr. Alton

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the development of energy projects in Liverpool bay and the River Mersey.

Mr. Eggar

Progress is a matter for the private sector, but we shall keep in close touch with developments on these projects.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister accept that the development of the oil and gas fields in Liverpool bay could mark a crucial and significant turn in the economies of both Merseyside and Deeside? When is his Department likely to give final approval for the development of the gas fields and what active role is it playing to try to ensure that the construction of the rigs necessary for the exploration and exploitation of the field is carried out at the Cammell Laird yard on Merseyside, where there is a desperate need for employment opportunities? Where would be a more fitting place than Merseyside for the construction of those facilities?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that during the coal review my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade gave permission under section 36 for Connah's Quay to proceed. That in turn will have a significant impact on the economic viability of the find in Liverpool bay. It was quite remarkable that, although certain sections of the Liberal party gave their support, not a single voice was raised by the Liverpool Labour party in favour of proceeding with that project during the whole consultation process leading up to the coal review White Paper. It is recognised that the project would have led to at least 5,000 construction jobs. The Labour party should balance the energy demands of this country.

Mr. Richards

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is only because of the Government's energy policy that Liverpool bay will be developed and that, if the Labour party had had its way, we would still be producing coal that no one wants?

Mr. Eggar

I agree with my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to the Welsh TUC which, at the last minute, made its position absolutely clear: it wanted the Liverpool bay development to go ahead.

Mr. George Howarth

In the light of his previous answer, will the Minister confirm that I wrote a letter to his right hon. Friend which bore the signature of every Labour Member on Merseyside and also the signatures of Liberal and Conservative Members urging him to go ahead precisely along the lines that he did during the period of the coal review? Will the Minister now apologise for this earlier statement? While he is on the subject, will he pull together Hamilton Oil, the Department and Cammell Laird and work out precisely what can be done to bring the orders for the oil drilling platforms to Cammell Laird—or is he prepared to see another Swan Hunter on Merseyside?

Mr. Eggar


Hon. Members


Mr. Eggar

I should certainly be willing to apologise to the hon. Gentleman if the letter makes it quite clear that those hon. Members were willing to see the closure of mines as a result—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Yes, but that is just the point. Opposition Members are not prepared to make hard and difficult choices. That is why they are in opposition and why they will remain in opposition.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister agree that the Labour party in Merseyside has supported both proposals because it considers it necessary to have a balanced energy policy? That is why we also believe that the petroleum revenue tax changes may prejudice the prospect of any other inshore projects of the kind envisaged in the question. The Minister is misleading the House and the country when he suggests that this narrow and blinkered view of energy policy, if that is what it amounts to, can produce anything like the share that the country requires between oil, gas and coal—resources which the country already owns.

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman is now on record as being against any restriction on the production of coal, being in favour of nuclear production and being in favour of the expansion of gas-fired electricity production. That is highly responsible from the Opposition Front Bench that seeks to form the Government of this country. I suggest that he makes those on the Benches behind him aware that it is necessary to make difficult choices. It is no good his coming to the Dispatch Box to ask for every single thing to proceed in order to persuade and make happy different sectors of his own party.