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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:08 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 5:08 pm, 13th December 1988

The Minister said, "We bother", and then went on to speak of anything and everything except electricity privatisation. I thought that I would help him by trying to discover why the Government have bothered to take this course. I want to examine the rationale, and to look for some of the answers that Ministers have been unable to provide.

As I understand it, the crux of the Government's argument is that, although privatisation may not produce "classical" competition, it at least produces useful competition. Competition is of course a slogan with which Ministers are at home, but it is not one that is universally applicable, and I consider it particularly inappropriate when applied to the electricity industry.

The Secretary of State for Scotland criticised the industry's record, suggesting that it had either been negligent in some way or had simply not responded properly to market forces, with the result that we had been left with a heavy over-capacity. As one of my hon. Friend's pointed out, that was a rather odd argument, particularly as one of the few props on which it is balanced in Scottish terms is over-capacity in relation to the interconnector and the possibility of sales south of the border.

In any event, perhaps the Minister will agree with me that the electricity industry in Scotland has been—if I may coin a phrase—"efficient, well-managed and successful" in recent years. I use those words because the Minister used them in March this year. This is not a case of the industry having to hang its head in shame; it has done splendidly, and the Minister has said so. We are left with the assumption that, splendidly though it has done, it could do better under what I suppose would be called the spur of competition.