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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Deputy Leader, Scottish National Party 7:14 pm, 13th December 1988

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which is ill considered spatchcock legislation; notes that electricity supply, as a basic service, properly belongs in the public sector; that the Bill fails to introduce effective competition into the privatised structure in England and Wales and particularly in Scotland, leaving consumers to face higher bills to finance the doubling of company rates of return; further notes the lack of public provision for the strengthening of the electricity interconnector between Scotland and England and the failure to guarantee that the Scottish companies will not be forced to compete to sell electricity to a monopoly buyer at a loss of some tens of millions of pounds, the effective removal of the social clause from the Hydro-Board operations and the failure to appoint a separate Scottish regulator to oversee the distinctive characteristics of the Scottish electricity system, the Government's failure to respond adequately to the Select Committee on Energy's detailed and robust criticisms, and the continued intent to shelter the nuclear industry from competition at the expense of the coal industry; and considers that Scottish consumers risk being denied the full benefits of the development of hydro power and North Sea Gas, the two cheapest and most environmentally sensitive major sources of electricity generation. There has been some interest in the use of the word "spatchcock" to describe the Government's proposed legislation. That word was used by the Select Committee on Energy. As all hon. Members will know, it means a chicken that is ill-prepared—slaughtered before its time. The word is derived from the Indian army. I can think of no better word than one used by the Indian Raj to describe what the Scottish Raj is doing to Scotland in the Bill.

I was prepared for the fact that the Secretary of State for Energy would know little about the Scottish side of the legislation when he opened the debate. He knew so little that he refused point blank to answer questions on the Scottish issue. But I was not prepared for the Secretary of State for Scotland to display a similar level of ignorance. If I interpreted him correctly, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that only about 3 per cent. of the issues involved in the Scottish privatisation were different and separate from those involved in the privatisation in England and Wales. There can be no better testimony to the Secretary of State's total ignorance of the measure that he is co-sponsoring through the House.

The Scottish and English privatisations are like chalk and cheese. The issues involved in the vertical integration of the Scottish electricity industry and its privatisation are separate and distinct from the issues involved in the different structure south of the border. Such remarks show why, according to the MORI poll published last Friday, 61 per cent. are now dissatisfied with the Secretary of State's performance. That is only 1 per cent. more than the dissatisfaction accorded to the Leader of the Opposition. The Secretary of State is now chasing hard on the heels of the Prime Minister to be the most unpopular political figure in Scotland.

Why are the Scottish public so dissatisfied with the Secretary of State's performance? The major reason is that he persists in imposing policies which have no popular support in Scotland. The Bill is an excellent illustration of that. I defy any Tory Member to tell me where, in Scottish local election results, general election results or opinion polls, there is any sign of convincing support for electricity privatisation in Scotland.

When that point is pursued with the Secretary of State, he says that the companies support privatisation. I can think of nothing more pathetic than being reduced to claiming the support of people whom he appoints or whose future he controls. That displays the Tory party's attitude to Scotland. On so many issues, the Tory party has appointed place people in a failed attempt to reinforce its support in Scotland.

The Secretary of State is unpopular because of the contempt with which he allows Scottish business to be treated. The distinctive nature of the Scottish electricity industry was recognised by the Select Committee on Energy. In the absence of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Energy Select Committee went into the Bill's Scottish aspect, although it recognised that it could not do the thorough job or do the matter the justice that a Scottish Affairs Select Committee would have done. Now we find that there is to be no Scottish Bill, no Scottish debate and no Scottish Standing Committee, all because the Government lack the troops to man their Scottish Benches. We see another perfect illustration of that this evening.