HC Deb 20 July 1994 vol 247 cc299-301
2. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is his policy on constructing an interconnector for gas between Britain and the continent of Europe; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

We want freer trade in gas throughout Europe. I believe that a private sector gas interconnector between the United Kingdom and Belgium will play a major role in achieving that.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the private sector is keen to finance its own pipeline to the continent? Does he agree that it is about time that the European Community moved towards a single market on energy?

Mr. Eggar

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There is no suggestion of Government funding contributing to the building of the interconnector, although I recently met my Belgian counterpart to begin negotiations on a treaty between the UK and Belgium to cover the interconnector.

As for my hon. Friend's comments about the European Commission, I do think that the Union needs to move towards a single market in energy, in the same way as we have moved towards a single market in goods and services.

Mr. Salmond

If the Minister believes in a free market in gas throughout Europe, why is his Department preventing other Norwegian fields from going through the Frigg delivery system and landing at St. Fergus in my constituency? Does not that reveal an inconsistency in his approach, or is he just against St. Fergus as a landfall point for gas?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am committed to the continuation of St. Fergus as a major terminal for gas, whether it be from Norway or from other sources. I recently had representations from the chairman of the Banff and Buchan Conservative association, urging that Britannia gas should arrive at St. Fergus.

As for the discussions that are going on with the Norwegians, those are difficult matters, which are important for the future of the UK gas industry, and doubtless we shall resume the discussions when we hear next from the Norwegians.

Sir John Hannam

Does my hon. Friend accept that the introduction of full competition in the gas supplied to the domestic consumer could result in a drop in prices of about 10 or 11 per cent. to them? Will he therefore introduce a full liberalisation of the gas market to domestic consumers, and allow independent companies to come in and compete with British Gas?

Mr. Eggar

I am well aware of the point that my hon. Friend makes. As he knows, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced that legislation would be brought forward, subject to the availability of parliamentary time, in order to introduce competition.

Mr. O'Neill

I want to return to the Minister's answer to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on the subject of Norwegian gas. Are we going to have to wait until Norway is in the European Community before the matter is resolved? Will it be resolved on the basis of Britain being in a minority of one once again?

Mr. Eggar

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman—I am not surprised at the Scottish nationalist Member. We are in negotiations with the Norwegians and want to support Britain's best interests. I find it extraordinary that the official Opposition should urge a collapse on our part to agree to whatever requests the Norwegians make. That is not looking after Britain's best interests.