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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East 5:52 pm, 13th December 1988

The hon. Gentleman says that I can say that again.

Lord Marshall's enthusiasm will be tempered when he is answerable to private shareholders, who will ask, "Who will pay for the new power stations and for the present decommissioning?" The Sizewell B inquiry lasted for about four years. The inspector eventually said that, on balance, he thought that nuclear power would be cheaper than coal. What would he say today? The Bill strips away the protection that nuclear power has had in this country over recent years and exposes the fact that, compared with the cost of fossil fuels—coal and oil—nobody argues that nuclear power is cheap. That is the reality we face, but what does the privatised industry, which will be answerable to its shareholders, say about that? It says that it exists to make profits.

That industry will want to use the cheapest coal available. My hon. Friends will be aware that imported cheap coal will be one of the priorities for the privatised industry. Will the British public allow the nuclear part of the industry to be taken out of the Bill, put on one side and completely protected from natural market forces? If that happens, the cost will be borne by the British taxpayer, but not by the shareholders of the privatised companies. They will be excluded. We must face that.

Last week there was an excellent article in the Spectator by Jonathan Davis who spelt out clearly what will happen. He said: Gone, with the stroke of a Parly draftsman's pen", is the previous support for nuclear power. The article continues: Although it does not spell out the message in so many words, Mr. Parkinson's Bill effectively marks the end of that particular hoary game. The prices of oil and coal, nuclear's fossil fuel competitors, have fallen to their lowest level in real terms for many years, and are likely to languish there for some time. In these conditions, even the PWR, the American-designed pressurised water reactor on which so many of the British industry's hopes now rest, cannot expect to compete with coal. No private sector utility would dream of building one in the present climate. Given that the Government have supported nuclear power, have pushed it down our throats and have used every means possible to encourage its development, we now face an extraordinary situation.

I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that, in an economy which uses a mixed-fuel input —coal, oil, nuclear power, and alternative sources—for our electricity supply, the way in which to deal with that industry, upon which everyone depends for light, food, fuel and work, can only be through public control. That is in the best interests of the consumer.

To take nuclear power out of public control is extremely dangerous. The British people want it kept under firm control. I understand that there is a nuclear power station on the edge of the area that was recently hit by an earthquake in the Soviet Union. Fortunately for everyone concerned, it was not damaged; I am sure that we are all extremely thankful for that.