HC Deb 05 February 1997 vol 289 cc993-4
4. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his discussions with Scottish Power about the electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland. [12884]

Mr. Kynoch

My right hon. Friend is considering representations received and, once he has done so, will announce his decision.

Mr. Home Robertson

Does the Minister realise that the Secretary of State's interference in this affair could add £28 million to the project's cost and cause impossible technical problems? In short, he could scupper—he could sabotage—the whole interconnector project. Given the great importance to the economies of Scotland and Northern Ireland of establishing an interconnector between the electricity systems on each side of the Irish sea, will he stop playing local politics with this important issue and uphold the outcome of the public inquiries on each side of the Irish sea?

Mr. Kynoch

I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to consider all representations made to him on the issue. This afternoon, the hon. Gentleman has once again disclosed the significant split between Labour Members, in that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was shaking his head the whole time the hon. Gentleman was asking his question. My right hon. Friend will seriously consider all representations; when he has done, that he will make his announcement.

Mr. Beggs

Can the Minister confirm that Scottish Power took account of all representations—including those made by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—and that the re-routing has been done to appease environmentalists and to satisfy the justifiable need to protect fishing grounds? Will he accept that, if the project is not approved and the public inquiry's finding is not upheld, the Secretary of State will bear responsibility for sabotaging the link between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for imposing a huge burden on electricity consumers in Northern Ireland? Will he therefore further consult the Department of Economic Development in Northern Ireland before making a final decision?

Mr. Kynoch

As I have said, my right hon. Friend listens to all representations. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have a great interest in the matter. Indeed, the Secretary of State has received a letter about it from the hon. Gentleman, and has already agreed to meet him and a small delegation of his colleagues at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Eric Clarke

Is the Minister aware that the interconnector will burn the equivalent of 600,000 tonnes of coal? Is he further aware that the coal used by Cockenzie power station comes from Monktonhall; and that Scottish Office Ministers were involved in encouraging Waverley Mining to invest in that mine? The company has spent £15 million on new machinery, so jobs in my constituency and in East Lothian will clearly be under threat if the project does not go ahead.

Mr. Kynoch

I am well aware of that. I should point out that my right hon. Friend has said that he is minded to approve the interconnector, subject to four sections of it being undergrounded. It is on that aspect that he has sought further advice from the interested parties; but the matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers are commercial. They are therefore for the companies concerned, not for my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Trimble

Perhaps the Minister will remind his right hon. Friend that the crucial question is whether the interconnector will go ahead; if the undergrounding that the Secretary of State is considering is required, it is probable that the interconnector will not go ahead. It thus comes down to considering whether the project is to go ahead. Will he remind the Secretary of State that he must, in his deliberations, rise above purely local considerations and think about the national interest? He is one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State: he must consider the national interest.

The interconnector is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland, which has to bear electricity costs 15 per cent. higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The interconnector might help to reduce those costs. There are therefore larger considerations to be borne in mind.

Mr. Kynoch

As I told the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs), we are well aware of the significant interest in Northern Ireland in the project, but I know that my right hon. Friend is considering all representations. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect him to reach a conclusion before giving serious consideration to all aspects. He is doing that; he will do that; and when he is ready he will make an announcement.