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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

No, I am not saying that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apply the prejudice that he has just displayed to the fuel tax that is contained in the Bill.

There is a strong national interest in maintaining security of supply. That is what weighed with the SSEB in 1987, and it should not dismiss that consideration now. Of course, the Minister may say that it is different now because the industry is to be privatised and that there is no need to bother about the national interest to the same extent. If that is the argument, it reinforces the case against the Bill a hundred times. We have been trying for months to coax, persuade, or even force the Minister to go beyond the pious hopes that he has expressed that some agreement can be reached. We have not succeeded, but we shall continue to try because this matter is of real and vital national importance. We at least recognise that there is a public interest in the debate. The Government should recognise what we know to be there.

I note that the SNP amendment has been selected for a Division, and I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for that amendment. No doubt the Committee will be selected very shortly. Whatever the Minister's view about a separate Bill and the process of parliamentary scrutiny, he will surely join me in saying that it is important that the distinctive Scottish aspects of the argument to which he properly addressed his attention in his 30 to 40-minute speech are properly examined and echoed in the Committee. This is an important point, although it may sound like a narrow, procedural one.

I hope that he will agree that that cannot be done if the Committee is cast on such a scale that it will contain, at most, two or three Scottish Members apart from a Front Bencher. We shall press, and shall expect to have his support, for an unusually large Committee on which there can be proper representation, not only by my hon. Friends but by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is offering his services, as ever, in this cause. What a trooper!

We look at the Bill with growing gloom. I accept that it is attractive to the Treasury and I suspect that it has a great deal to do with the greater glory of the Secretary of State for Energy. Perhaps, if the price is outrageously discounted, there may even be something for a few shareholders looking for a quick profit. However, there is nothing in it for the consumer and nothing for the nation. When we look, for example, at the history of the gas industry since privatisation in terms of consumer experience, we see some of the warning examples that lead me to that conclusion.

I acknowledge that we know a little more about the Government's plans, although we still do not know enough. We have seen some horse trading on assets between the north and south boards. We have seen 600 MW of coal capacity being swapped for the Cruachan pumped storage system and we have seen 50 per cent. of Peterhead up for transfer and bought. All the patching and all the switching does not produce a plausible vehicle that can be offered honestly for sale to the people of Scotland or to people in any other part of the United Kingdom. There are too many ambiguities, confusions and internal flaws for the Bill to carry any real conviction.

The Government are not succeeding in convincing Scotland that its hostility to a measure that offers it nothing should be abated. Tories that I talk to in Scotland see it as driving the privatisation obsession past the edge of reason. The Government are taking a great public utility and turning it into a fragmented private monopoly, but still into a monopoly. It is asset stripping on a grand scale. It is not some sort of mean folly, but massive irresponsibility by the Government. They should think again.

In one of his early press statements the Secretary of State for Energy described the Bill as evolutionary. I think that that means that it has not been thought through properly and he knows that he will have to come back to the House with many amendments to try to get it creaking in some sort of unsatisfactory way. We want none of it, and we shall vote accordingly.