The Central Electricity Generating Board has negotiated arrangements with Electricité de France to provide for bulk imports of electricity from France until 26 March 1988. Arrangements beyond that will be subject to commercial negotiation by the two utilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he bear in mind the recent strikes in France and what contingency plans Her Majesty's Government might have if we relied upon the French for electricity supplies which were then cut off as a result of strikes? Is not the time now right to provide for another coal-fired power unit so that workers in this country will not be denied an electricity supply? Although we should in no way move away from nuclear power as the ultimate source of energy, perhaps in the short term the Government should give serious consideration to the placing of a new order for a coal-fired electricity unit.
It is important that the generating board should be able to take advantage of economical methods of electricity generation. Imports through the link will help to keep down electricity supply costs and therefore electricity prices. The link with France is designed for flows in either direction. The generating board stated that its present arrangements provide for a two-year supply up to 25 per cent. cheaper than can be generated, on average, in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the generating board does not regard the link as firm capacity in planning for its long-term requirements. I know that my hon. Friend has taken a close constituency interest in the possibility of new coal-fired capacity. Proposals for new power stations must come from the electricity supply industry. I understand that the board is considering the possibility of building new coal-fired power stations, but no applications to construct stations have been received, apart from that for Sizewell B.
As my hon. Friend has said that the costs are substantially in favour of France, will he consider laying a third cable across the Channel so that the consumer in the United Kingdom can receive that considerable benefit?
I note what my hon. Friend says. Before any further links are considered, the utilities will wish to have further operating experience of the present link.
Will the Minister comment upon the assistance given to maintain the supply link to the United Kingdom by the French Government? Will he assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will give the same assistance to protect jobs in the electricity supply industry in this country as well as the coal mining industry? Can we have the same protection here as the French workers?
Obviously, the Government are deeply concerned to take every account of employment in both the coal and electricity supply industries.
Bearing in mind that this country was in the forefront of nuclear power development in the late 1950s, will my hon. Friend comment on or perhaps even express disappointment at the fact that this country now produces less than 20 per cent. of its electricity from nuclear sources while France produces more than 60 per cent.? Is that not the reason why, with our more expensive and less plentiful electricity, we are having to import from France?
I note the right hon. Gentleman's latter view and its likely impact on electricity consumers, both domestic and industrial, in this country. I shall let him know the exact foreign exchange costs.