HC Deb 20 May 1993 vol 225 cc354-5
3. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has had on the future price of electricity in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Robert Atkins)

The Secretary of State and I have received representations from a number of bodies and individuals, notably the Action Group on Northern Ireland Electricity Prices, the Confederation of British Industry, the chairman of the consumer committee, and some Members of Parliament.

Mr. Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that the regulatory framework for electricity now in place in Northern Ireland will ensure that efficiency and competition will drive down costs, and that reduced costs will lead to lower electricity prices—unlike the Opposition policy, which suggests that after achieving reduced costs, additional taxation should be imposed on utilities, which would make electricity more expensive?

Mr. Atkins

It is fair to say that Northern Ireland suffers in one respect in respect of energy, in that there is no opportunity to use gas there. The introduction of a gas interconnector in the not-too-distant future, together with the Scottish interconnector, will provide a great deal of extra resource and competition, which I hope will drive prices down.

Mr. William Ross

Surely the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is completely wrong when he says that efficiency will drive down prices. Anyone who heard the statements on the prospectus issued the other day will know that it was said that electricity prices will rise considerably over the next four years. What prospect does that offer those attempting to attract industry to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

Such is the interest—which I hope will be fulfilled—in the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity that 600,000 people have already applied for the necessary details. I venture to suggest that a good number of them live in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, so I suggest that he should be a little cautious about being critical of what I am sure will prove to be a great success and yet another example of privatised industry being returned to those who ought to own it—all the consumers.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will recall that during the appropriation debate in February, I warned him that the Electricity Consumers Council in Northern Ireland had obtained information that electricity prices would rise by a massive 15 per cent. after privatisation—a fact which he refused to deny. Given that industrial and domestic electricity prices in Northern Ireland are already the highest in these islands, and from next year will attract 15 per cent. value added tax, how can the Minister justify pursuing the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity —when the business community does not want it, industry cannot afford it, and all the political parties in Northern Ireland have opposed it?

Mr. Atkins

The people—to the tune of 600,000 of them appear to want it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman ought to listen to that message.