HC Deb 05 February 1998 vol 305 cc1218-9
15. Mr. Bendel

What plans she has to promote investment in new technology within the electricity industry. [25700]

Mr. Battle

My Department is heavily committed to research in the new technologies for the electricity industry and their use. The foresight programme, to which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and Industry referred, has identified opportunities that we are considering with the electricity generation industry. This year, DTI and research council budgets for research, particularly into new and renewable energy items such as advanced fuel cells and photovoltaics, have been supported to the tune of more than £18 million. We also support the non-fossil fuel levy orders in respect of renewable energy technologies to ensure that we take forward renewable energy in electricity generation in accordance with the targets that we have set.

Mr. Rendel

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but I was thinking more in terms of domestic users. Does he agree that, in respect of domestic metering, the United Kingdom is still living in the dark ages and that new meters are now available that enable and encourage users to make much better use of electricity and perhaps reduce waste? The introduction of such metering systems will probably depend on the Minister's introducing a national standard. That would allow suppliers to invest in meters while retaining competition between them.

Mr. Battle

As electricity competition opens up, electricity companies will see what can be done to improve metering. The technology exists and I hope that companies are not waiting to see how the market pans out before introducing it, as it could make a significant contribution to—dare I say it—reducing the price of electricity. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I shall refer the question of standards to the regulator, who is responsible for such matters.

Mr. Hoyle

Will my hon. Friend look into new technology for answering the telephones in the electricity industry? Norweb and Manweb fail on that.

Mr. Battle

I compliment my hon. Friend on his ingenuity. He championed his constituents and intervened on their behalf during the difficult period over Christmas when the weather brought down lines. I take his point. He said during an Adjournment debate that communication with people whose electricity supply is cut off is vital throughout the industry. I hope that the industry hears what he has said. The regulator has been asked to report on the issue.

Mr. Paterson

What will take priority in the Government's strategy for the British electricity industry: providing the cheapest possible electricity to the consumer; honouring the commitments of Kyoto; or protecting jobs in the coal industry? I asked a similar question at the most recent Trade and Industry questions. Several of my constituents commented on the unsatisfactory answer that I received.

Mr. Battle

Our policy is clear: competition where possible and regulation where necessary. Rather than simply directing regulators to focus on competition, we intend to put consumers at the heart of the process. That will be a great change from the approach of the Conservatives when they opened up the markets.