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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Mr Michael Irvine Mr Michael Irvine , Ipswich 7:08 pm, 13th December 1988

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is a barrister. His speech yesterday was fluent; it had a certain polish and it went on rather too long. In other words, it was very much the speech of a barrister. Barristers have clients, and I found myself asking just who the hon. Gentleman's clients were. I decided that they were just about every vested interest and every force against progress that is to be found in the industry. The hon. Gentleman's clients are the National Union of Mineworkers, the anti-nuclear lobby, the state corporatists. They are all those who are against the operation of market forces and competition and who recoil with a shudder from the idea of giving the consumer some clout.

The CEGB has much of which it can be proud, and I acknowledge it. I acknowledge that it has achieved and maintained high technical standards, but it is by no means the creature of perfection that many of its apologists would have us believe. Its record on investment shows that it has over-invested far too often. A look at the way in which its power stations have been constructed and supervised reveals an appalling record.

Look at the time that it took the CEGB to construct Dungeness B. Originally it planned to build the power station in five years; it took 20. When it put its hands on Hartlepool, the power station there was expected to take six years. It took 18 years. It was not just the AGR power stations that took such a time. The Isle of Grain power station was planned to take seven years, but it took 13. Ince B was planned to take five years, but it took 10. In some respects, the CEGB has not served the nation well, although in others I acknowledge that it has.

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) spent a great deal of time talking about fat cats. He spat out the words with considerable ferocity and frequency. Looking at him, I was moved to reflect that he had a not inconsiderable waistline himself. Apart from the hon. Member for Clydesdale and the fat cats to whom he referred, there are others. Could it not be that the CEGB is a bit of a fat cat? Could it not be in need of slimming down? Could it not be that it occasionally needs to meet the sharp end of competition? If you will forgive the pun, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that would do it a power of good.

This Bill will open the way for many small-scale generating schemes. We shall see many more power and heat schemes. I am convinced that a great number of small gas-generated power stations will open as a direct result of the Bill. Section 5 of the Energy Act 1983 paved the way for such small gas-generated power stations and the like to generate directly into the national grid.

Unfortunately, that section was not the success that was hoped for. The trouble was that the CEGB was in control of the national grid and it had no desire to see small gas and other generating stations move in on its territory. Things will now be different. Following the Bill, the national grid will be under the control of the distribution companies, which will have an interest in encouraging different sources of supply, in diversifying and in seeing competition brought into the generating industry. That will be a considerable force for good.

Labour Members from time to time during the debate have mocked the special status that the Government are according nuclear power in the Bill. Power generated through nuclear fission is, and should be, treated as a special case. The cost of constructing nuclear power stations is heavy, but the great advantage is that, once those costs have been incurred, the running costs are comparatively cheap. Quite apart from that, there is the issue of security of supply.

In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that on several occasions during the past 20 years there had been threats to security of supply. There have been threats to oil and coal supplies to power stations. There has not been the same threat to power supplies from nuclear stations. It is noteworthy that not one Opposition Member has addressed himself to that argument. That shows its force and weight and why it is so important that the Government should have it in mind.