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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde 8:27 pm, 13th December 1988

I am most grateful for your calling me to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall try to limit my remarks.

The Bill is an exciting concept. It opens the electricity industry to a new dynamic. It sets the management of the electricity industry free from Government control for the first time in its life. I can remember, during my days at university, studying economics and, time after time, realising that investment plans for the electricity supply industry had been sacrificed by various post-war Governments on the altar of economic efficiency. That is why we have some of the problems with our electricity supply industry today. The Bill removes obstacles to investment in that vital industry.

In the document "The Generating Game", published by the Central Electricity Generating Board, there are three statements. They are, that electricity is the power behind modern civilised life; that convenient electricity binds together the fabric of 20th century society; and that with this comes the responsibility to ensure reliable electricity supplies. The Bill responds to those three statements.

I shall address the main part of my remarks to the point about reliable supplies. From the conversations that I have had with the chairman of the North-Western electricity board, NORWEB, I sense that he and his staff are excited about how the Bill will open up new forms and new sources of electricity generation in the north-west. New sources of energy will be available from the industrial sector. the proponents of combined heat and light production. New sources of nuclear electricity will also be possible. All those opportunities will be available, as well as giving that management the ability to run its company in the interests of its consumers.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is unclear about the powers of consumers who are shareholders. Many of those people will beat a path to the annual general meetings of electricity supply companies that fail to deliver.

Some 3,500 of my constituents are, however, concerned about the provisions of the Bill. They work for British Nuclear Fuels plc and make the fuel rods for all our existing nuclear power stations. They want to make the fuel pellets for the PWRs. They strongly believe that what they contribute to the electricity supply of this country is concentrated, reliable energy.

In my hand I have the equivalent of 1½ tonnes of coal. It is a small pellet from an advanced gas-cooled reactor. It provides a vivid picture of the nature of nuclear electricity. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who has just pretended to faint, demonstrates one of the problems we face—the total irrationality about, and lack of understanding of, the intrinsic safety of nuclear electricity.

Those 3,500 workers strongly believe that they made the contribution that kept the lights burning when the miners deserted those who needed electricity supplies. They want to be given the chance to make their contribution to our supply of electricity through a newer, slimmed-down, more efficient BNFL.

When the Bill is considered in Committee, I hope that Ministers will remember the obligations we have to those workers in the nuclear industry in my constituency, at Sellafield and at the other power stations. They must ensure that those parts of the Bill that refer to continuity in the supply of electricity reflect the contribution that nuclear power makes.

On 20 April 1988, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), spoke at the annual luncheon of the British Nuclear Forum. He said: Nuclear power makes a valuable, indeed vital, contribution to diversity in electricity generation and so to the security of supply. It would be folly to rely on a closely related narrow group of fuels for electricity generation. Fossil fuels historically have shown that they are all, in one way or another, highly volatile in both price and availability.