HL Deb 13 October 1986 vol 480 cc519-21

2.38 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are now able to announce the programme for the ordering of new power stations, both of fossil and nuclear fuel types.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the ordering of new power stations in England and Wales is a matter for the Central Electricity Generating Board. The only application from the board for consent to construct a power station which is before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy at present is that for Sizewell B. He is currently awaiting the inquiry inspector's report. My right honourable friend's decision on Sizewell B will clearly be important for the Central Electricity Generating Board's proposals for any future nuclear and conventional stations.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, bearing in mind information issued from government sources some weeks ago, to the effect that coal still has a part to play in our future energy resources and that there will be new coal-fired stations in the ordering programme, does it not make sense now to pre-empt the Sizewell decision and, because of the employment situation in the turbine manufacturing industry, to bring forward a programme of ordering two coal-fired power stations, as I understand that they have an extremely high export potential?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I understand that the Central Electricity Generating Board is considering the possibility of building new coal-fired stations. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy has received no application to construct new power stations, apart from that for Sizewell B. The Government fully appreciate the importance of maintaining the capability of the industry during a period of lack of home orders. The Government have provided considerable aid and support for the industry to win overseas contracts to help maintain its capability. However, ordering is essentially a matter for the Central Electricity Generating Board.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say when the report of the Sizewell inquiry will be made public and, when it has been, how long the Government will take to make up their mind about it?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has down for Wednesday a Starred Question which is exactly the same question as my noble friend has asked. I suggest that perhaps we might await that before I give a reply.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, since one of the major exports of coal-fired power stations is acid rain, will the Government take great care before ordering too many of them?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, as I said, no new coal-fired stations are planned at present. But I can assure the noble Lord that any that are eventually ordered will have to incorporate flue gas desulphurisation to the industrial air pollution inspectorate's requirements, unless by then a more cost-effective method of limiting sulphur emissions is available.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that what many people are concerned about is that the delay in the Sizewell B inquiry report is having an adverse effect on the totality of the CEGB's ordering programme, which is essential not only for the health of the manufacturing industry but also to deal with the older coal-fired power stations being closed down and the increase in energy consumption? Can he say whether it is true that the CEGB is now contemplating putting in a planning application for a coal-fired station at Marchwood or Fawley? There has been a good deal of rumour and I have read several articles to that effect.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I cannot confirm that the CEGB is putting in any planning applications for any power stations at this moment in time. But I would say that the Government are as keen as anybody else to receive the report of the Sizewell inquiry and I am hopeful that it will be delivered to my right honourable friend within the next few weeks.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in view of the CEGB's stated requirement for additional electricity generating capacity in the 1990s, is it not essential that it should very quickly come forward with an application for new power stations; and is not coal the one source of energy which creates the least problems? In the case of acid rain, would the noble Viscount agree that if the flue gas desulphurisation plant, which is already working very effectively in other countries, were to be installed there would be no problem over acid rain? So pending receipt of the Sizewell report, and in view of the time which the Secretary of State will necessarily have to take to come to a decision, would it not be desirable in the national interest to go ahead with a coal-fired power station in the meantime?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, should address that question to the CEGB. Coal purchasing is a matter for the CEGB and the board reached a fresh agreement with British Coal in June which will reduce the cost of its coal supplies and benefit electricity consumers. The agreement between British Coal and the Central Electricity Generating Board will guarantee that 75 per cent. of British Coal's production will go to the Central Electricity Generating Board for at least two years, and probably longer. This is a splendid deal for the future of British Coal, with its largest customer agreeing such a commitment.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, while these matters are under consideration and pending receipt of the Sizewell B report, will the Government urge the nuclear inspectorate to state their attitude toward the use of zircalloy in water reactors, which has now been implicated in two nuclear disasters—at Three Mile Island and at Chernobyl?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I will certainly tell my right honourable friend about the noble Earl's question.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, may I finally ask the Minister whether he is aware that the areas of the country where the turbines for these power stations will be manufactured, which include Trafford Park, Manchester, and the North-East, are among the areas of highest unemployment, and that recently there have been further redundancies in the turbine manufacturing industry in the North-East? May I therefore ask the Government to use what endeavours they can to speed up this ordering programme and avoid what could be further disastrous redundancies in one of our best industries?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I will certainly bear that in mind.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, in view of all these problems, has the noble Viscount anything to say about fusion and JET, the Joint European Torus project at Culham, which the last Labour Government arranged should come to this country?

Viscount Davidson

No, my Lords.