My Department does not routinely forecast electricity demand—that is the job of the industry. When specific needs arise, projections are produced as, for example, in the United Kingdom's submission to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published as an energy paper and is available in the Library of the House.
I am grateful, on the one hand, for that answer, but I am not very grateful, on the other hand, because it says nothing. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the future demand for electricity is an unknown quantity, the Government should consider the supply of electricty generated by North sea gas as it affects the Teesside area? We do not want a proliferation of pylons radiating like a spider's web from that region. There is no reason at all why other parts of the country should not have gas fed directly to them. If power stations are built in those areas, we would not need pylons despoiling the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, which is under threat at this moment.
Additional overhead lines are sometimes necessary to connect new power stations or to strengthen the grid system, but applications to build such lines must be accommpanied by environmental statements to ensure that the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend are fully considered before permission is given.
Can the Minister explain how it is that he disclaims responsibility for forecasting when the statute that set up his Department requires him and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to safeguard the energy supplies of the United Kingdom? By saying that forecasting is the responsibility of private companies, he is absolving himself of any responsibility whatsoever for future energy policy.
We are concerned to ensure a diverse and competitive supply of energy. What one can say about strategic plans and detailed projections of the past is that they were all wrong, including those made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he was Secretary of State for Energy.
Would the Minsiter care to comment on what the chairman of Pilkington's told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting a fortnight ago, when he said that one of the advantages of the democratic process in this country is that it might bring in a Labour Government who, unlike the present Government, actually have an energy policy?
I was not at the annual general meeting, but I have visited Pilkington's, and the company was extremely happy with the way in which we are working with the electricity industry and supplier of energy efficiency equipment to develop such a policy in the United Kingdom.