Electrical Engineering Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 12:00 am, 25th October 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the future of electricity generation and its effects on the turbine generating industry; and what are the possibilities of transferring some of the CEGB research staff to the turbine generating industry.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received about the ordering policy of the nationalised energy industries in relation to the British power engineering industry, in the light of the forthcoming CPRS report on the industry.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I have received numerous representations about the present problems of the power plant manufacturers and have held useful discussions with those concerned. These problems are being considered by the Central Policy Review Staff in the report that is due at the end of this month. Staffing questions are a matter for the industries concerned.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

To prevent the collapse of this industry probably for ever, and the loss of thousands of jobs in Manchester, Sheffield, Rugby and the North-East, will the Minister decide now to proceed with Drax B early in the coming year? If he will not give a decision this afternoon, when will he announce his decision?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I share my hon. Friend's concern, and so do the Government. The maintenance not only of jobs now but of capacity for the future for home needs and export development is of essential national importance. In the past we have seen much of our engineering capacity disappear. I am not in a position to announce a decision today, but it follows from what I said earlier about the deferment of the SGHWR that a coal-fired station—Drax B is coal-fired—will come forward for consideration in this context. I know the industry's anxiety, but I think that the industry recognises that the Government should approach this matter seriously and that the industry is ready to allow us to complete our consideration before announcing our conclusions.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Bain Mrs Margaret Bain , Dunbartonshire East

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a desperate need for his Department to clarify the Government's overall long-term strategy planning for the power generation industry? Does he also accept that an early statement would be greatly welcomed by many industries, including the boiler-making industry, which is so important to the economy of western Scotland and the employment prospects there?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. It is not possible for the supplying industries to be able to plan their future unless they can be sure of a steady flow of orders coming from the industries concerned. One of the most powerful reasons, among many others, for having a proper energy planning mechanism is that reasonable security should be available for those who have so much to offer on the industrial side.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

My right hon. Friend referred to exports. Although the placing of the order for Drax B would be very acceptable, it would relieve matters only in the immediate future. Would my right hon. Friend care to go into the question of the export effort with the Secretaries of State for Industry and Trade and try to get the manufacturers of turbines in this country to make more effort in the South American market? I understand that Venezuela is placing largish orders for hydroelectric and generating plant, to which the manufacturers in this country appear to be deliberately turning a blind eye.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that it is not only the home position but the export possibilities which should decide the future shape of the industry. As we are such a big energy supplier, and will become a bigger one, it would be right for this country to aim to supply not only the fuel but the equipment which allows that fuel to be used, including heavy electrical equipment. I shall look into the two cases that my hon. Friend has mentioned and refer them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

If, in the light of the Central Policy Review Staff report, the Secretary of State requires the CEGB to order a power station ahead of its own assessed requirement, will he ensure that the public is made aware of the subsidy involved in that decision?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

All the implications, and the long-term energy planning, need to be thought about most carefully by the House. One cannot, on the one hand, attempt to take advantage of the daily fluctuations of market forces and, at the same time, expect to retain any decision over the future of these key fuel industries or their supplying industries. The cost of that against the cost of losing capacity and having to import fuel, which would restrict the demand for heavy electrical equipment in future, would have to be confronted fairly and squarely. It is with that in mind that I am determined to develop a proper long-term energy policy.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

None the less, will the Secretary of State now answer my question—when this decision is taken, will he ensure that a proper amount of information is given, so that the public can make their judgment?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I think this information is made public. The Ince B Station was brought forward and it has been necessary for some subvention to be made by the Government in pursuit of that interest, which, as far as I recall, was taken by the previous Government. There is no desire to withhold information on these matters. What I am saying is that if it is necessary to do that, it would be for the longer-term interests, and we might then have to consider what the short-term cost was.