HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1024-6
11. Mr. Eric Clarke

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met PowerGen to discuss its proposed gas-fired generating unit at Gartcosh in Lanarkshire. [21330]

Mr. Kynoch

No such meeting has taken place.

Mr. Clarke

Is the Minister aware that there is over-capacity of generating units in Scotland? Is he aware that a 700 MW gas-fired station would displace 2.1 million tonnes of coal—half the production capacity of the coal industry in Scotland? The knock-on effect would be the closure of Cockenzie power station, resulting in a loss of 240 jobs and £7 million-worth of salaries from the economy. There are many more such facts. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of them all before he agrees to any such development. It is not needed, because there is already over-capacity.

Mr. Kynoch

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, for such an application to progress, consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 is required. PowerGen's application has only just been received and is still under consideration. It would obviously not be appropriate for me to comment on those plans. I would have much more faith and be more positive in my resolve about, for example, Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric. They are very successfully competing not only north of the Borders, but exporting power south and competing in England. I see nothing to fear from competition to those companies. I believe that they can compete well and succeed, and that there is a great future for them in the low-sulphur coal that is produced in Scotland.

Mr. McFall

Is it not true that there is no rationale for that corporate sabre rattling by PowerGen? There is no economic logic in a market that is already chronically oversupplied, nor is there any employment logic in an application that will provide 35 jobs in PowerGen while possibly losing up to 4,000 jobs in the rejuvenated coal industry. Is PowerGen not simply using the application to beat the Government into submission over the way in which the interconnector between Scotland and England is presently arranged? Does not the buck stop at the Secretary of State's door, as the Electricity Act 1989 requires him to make the final decision? Can the Minister give some support to Scottish industry and society today?

Mr. Kynoch

The hon. Gentleman obviously prepared his question before he heard my original answer. Of course I know perfectly well about section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, and have already referred to it. I should have hoped that, rather than knocking the idea of competition, the hon. Gentleman would have recognised the significant success of Scottish companies and how they have competed south of the border, by exporting electricity.

I have visited the successful Longannet colliery and seen it supplying coal to the next-door power station. It produces low sulphur coal, which is more environmentally friendly than some other coal used in power generation. I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have adopted a rather more constructive attitude towards Scottish business, and perhaps followed the lead that I gave in my answer to the main question.