To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has as to the level of investment, in real terms, by the Central Electricity Generating Board in (a) the years 1975 to 1980 and (b)1987–88; and what discussions he has had with the chairman of the board concerning the case for increased investment.
Does the Secretary of State accept that those figures confirm the investment slump in new power generation capacity, that, despite his promises, it is not being corrected, that it is being added to by fears about privatisation, that the CEGB is putting its contracts on a design-first basis without commitment to production, and that, without a firm home base of new orders, the British power generation industry could disappear after 1992?
Those figures show that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a chronic over-estimate of the need for capacity and that far too many power stations were built. The net result is that the taxpayer—the customer—has been funding that huge over-capacity for a long time. We are now coming to the end of it, and between now and the year 2000 a figure approaching £40,000 million will need to be invested, not only in generating capacity but in modernising the grid. Our plans are firmly based on that.
Last year's expenditure was low because there was only one power station under construction—Sizewell. I hope that when we come forward with our plans the hon. Gentleman will support them, thus ensuring a regular flow of orders for manufacturing industry.
Arising out of the latest very worrying evidence about the damage to the ozone layer and the fact that coal-fired power stations are environmentally much more damaging and dangerous than the nuclear alternative, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what action he proposes to ensure that the bulk of that investment goes towards nuclear generation, which of course is much safer?
My hon. Friend is correct. Many of the people who complain bitterly about the damage to the ozone layer and environmental pollution strenuously oppose the cleanest, safest source of electricity, which is atomic. We are making arrangements to clean up the emissions from coal-fired stations. That is a very expensive proposition, but it will be done.
When the Secretary of State discusses future investment with the chairman of the CEGB, as implied by the question put by my hon. Friend the Menber for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins), which the right hon. Gentleman has not yet answered, what does he intend to do about the CEGB's withdrawal from the fluidised bed combustion project in the south Yorkshire coalfield, which would have provided clean coalburn for the future? Will the Secretary of State tell the CEGB that investment must go ahead to keep that project going, so that we can have clean coalburn without the effects of radioactivity which nuclear power may involve?
That is just one of the technologies which produce less damaging emissions. The CEGB has decided that it is not prepared, for its purposes, to fund that technology any further. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] That must be a decision for the CEGB. I do not operate the power stations. The CEGB operates them and is in a better position than me to take decisions on this matter. The CEGB has made its decision and I do not intend to overrule it.