Electricity Generation (East Lothian)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 4th December 1996.

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Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside 1:45 pm, 4th December 1996

I will not be diverted from the subject of the Adjournment debate today, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the competitive marketplace, and I will be touching on that issue later on.

We believe our aim can be best achieved through the free market, which is the most effective and efficient means for meeting our energy needs. It determines prices best and exposes costs to rigorous test. Competition gives businesses the strongest incentive to meet the needs of customers and empowers the purchasers of fuel and consumers of energy, enabling them to get the best possible deal.

As a result of our policy, consumers have enjoyed real benefits. Since the privatisation of Scottish Power and Hydro-Electric in 1991, electricity prices have fallen by about 8 per cent., with further reductions coming as a result of nuclear privatisation. With the introduction of full competition into the electricity supply industry in 1998, I am sure consumers will benefit yet further from a greater freedom of choice, a greater range of suppliers and from lower prices.

Government should not attempt to impose all-embracing plans about how much energy and what kind should be produced or consumed by whom. Uncertainties about supply and demand, technology, and the behaviour of people and companies, doom such plans to failure.

The hon. Member for East Lothian raised a number of specific issues, and I will try to deal with them in turn in the short time available to me.

On the subject of the Scotland-Northern Ireland interconnector, I should begin by reminding the House that my right hon. Friend has not refused to give the go-ahead to the project. He has looked at the evidence that was presented to the inquiry, as it is proper that he should do, and he is minded to take a different view from the reporter of the weight to be attached to locally significant areas of landscape quality. The areas involved are the Water of Girvan; Nick of the Balloch; Duisk valley; and the Water of Tig and Dunnach Burn.

I repeat, my right hon. Friend has not refused Scottish Power's application. In fact, he has stated that he is minded to grant consent to it, subject to appropriate conditions but excluding the four sections I mentioned, where he is presently minded to conclude that undergrounding of the line is appropriate. Scottish Power and others have been asked to comment by 20 December. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is little more that I can add about that aspect of the proposal at this stage.

My right hon. Friend will listen carefully to what Scottish Power and the other parties have to say, and will announce his decision in due course.