HC Deb 26 April 1995 vol 258 cc841-3
5. Mr. Gallie

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with the electricity supply industry in Scotland concerning greater utilisation of coal-fired generating plants. [19573]

Mr. Lang

I meet representatives of the two Scottish electricity supply companies from time to time to discuss a range of issues. Any plans for greater use of coal-fired generating plant are for the companies themselves, provided that they can continue to operate within environmental constraints.

Mr. Gallie

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the planned uprating of the east coast overhead lines from 250,000 volts to 440,000 volts is good news for English customers cost-wise and for Scottish jobs in the electricity supply and coal industry, and good news environmentally in view of the low sulphur content of Scottish coal and the transportation factor of coal by wire?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. The quality of Scottish coal is high in terms of the low sulphur content. Consumption increased by 400,000 tonnes last year. If plans for upgrading the interconnector from 1,600 MW to 2,200 MW come to fruition, that will be good news for the Scottish electricity generating industry and for English consumers.

Mr. Ingram

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the proposal to subsume Scottish Nuclear into Nuclear Electric has united all political opinion in Scotland—including the Scottish National party, which until now wanted to close down the industry? Does the right hon. Gentleman support the merger proposal? If so, is that not a further example of his selling Scotland short for short-term tax cuts?

Mr. Lang

That is pretty rich coming from a member of the Labour party, whose 1992 manifesto stated: Britain's dependence on nuclear power will therefore steadily diminish. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the SNP manifesto promised a non-nuclear Scotland, but Labour also promised to run down the nuclear energy industry. I am concerned to secure the best long-term future in Scotland for the Scottish nuclear generating industry. The scaremongering, alarm and speculation stirred up by Labour is entirely misleading—above all, to those people whose employment depends on the nuclear industry in Scotland.

Mr. Salmond

Will the Secretary of State now answer the question? Is he personally in favour, as press reports suggest, of a merger of Scottish Nuclear and Nuclear Electric before privatisation? If so, is he aware that no one outside the Scottish Office shares that opinion? Opposition to it ranges from nuclear enthusiasts such as James Hann and Donald Miller to nuclear sceptics such as myself and Friends of the Earth—[Interruption.] To unite Donald Miller and Friends of the Earth is a substantial achievement. What has changed since the late 1980s, when it was decided to leave Scottish Nuclear under Scottish control and under public control? Is it really that the Government just need the money for tax cuts, at any expense to Scottish jobs or to nuclear safety?

Mr. Lang

The Government are concerned to achieve the long-term future of the nuclear generating industry. That is something which the hon. Gentleman and the Scottish National party are pledged to destroy and which the Labour party would also destroy. We are working towards a solution which will maintain high employment, quality jobs and a successful nuclear generating industry in Scotland, and in due course such a solution will be announced.

Mr. Home Robertson

The Secretary of State will be aware that I have a constituency interest both in coal burning, at Cockenzie, and in Scottish Nuclear, at Torness. Will he now tackle the immediate issues surrounding the future of Scottish Nuclear? First, will he accept the case for keeping this uniquely sensitive industry in the public sector? Secondly, will he honour the undertaking given by his predecessor to Sir Donald Miller that Scottish Nuclear will remain as a distinct Scottish entity? We want no sops, no bogus autonomy—just a distinct Scottish entity.

Mr. Lang

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance: it will indeed, as required by the nuclear energy agreement. Maintaining the industry in the public sector is, however, precisely what would create a twilight zone for the nuclear generating industry in Scotland—and its ultimate demise. We are looking for the long-term survival, growth, expansion and prosperity of the industry in Scotland and elsewhere around the United Kingdom.

Mr. George Robertson

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the whole idea of privatising a merged nuclear power industry makes absolutely no sense? On grounds of safety and security and of efficiency and profitability, Scottish Nuclear should stay firmly and permanently in the public sector. Is not this nuclear madness just another panic-stricken, money-grabbing tactic by the Treasury? The Secretary of State for Scotland has yet again been outvoted, outargued and outgunned in Cabinet. Will he stand up in Cabinet tomorrow for common sense and for Scotland, or will there be a white flag flying over St. Andrew's house as well as over No. 10 Downing street?

Mr. Lang

There may be a red face on the Opposition Front Bench as I do not expect the matter to be decided in Cabinet tomorrow. I repeat that we are concerned to secure the long-term future of the industry. I do not believe that Labour party policy could ever deliver that.

I am appalled by the hon. Gentleman's scaremongering in referring to jobs being lost in Scotland. He talked of 1,000 jobs being lost at East Kilbride as a result of Government proposals. That is rubbish. Apart from anything else, there are only 400 jobs at East Kilbride, so it would be difficult to lose more than twice that number. In fact, I expect the number of jobs in Scotland to increase if we can secure the right package for the future of the industry.

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