Power Supply Interruptions

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 22nd January 1997.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood 1:47 pm, 22nd January 1997

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the risk of interruptions to electricity and gas supplies in winter 1997. [10605]

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

There is sufficient electricity generating capacity and gas supply to meet foreseeable demand, but my Department keeps the situation under review in consultation with the Office of Electricity Regulation, the Electricity Pool and the Office of Gas Supply.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

Will the Minister agree to look again at the issue of interruptible gas contracts? Can it be right that combined cycle gas turbine stations depend on such contracts, and will receive extra payments when they use alternative fuel?

Will the Minister also comment on the fact that hospitals have left themselves in an exposed position by depending on such contracts? That clearly gives cause for concern. What steps will the Minister take to try to resolve the difficulties?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

Although it is principally a matter for the parties, the Government properly take an interest in it. We were particularly interested in the report produced by Ofgas in December, which concluded that supply interruptions were most unlikely for customers on firm contracts. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the network code ensures continuity of supply in extreme weather. Every indication has shown that the code is working well, but the Government are not complacent about any of those matters—particularly the contracts to which he refers—and will keep them carefully under review.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths , Edinburgh South

Does the Minister think that contracts for 250 hospitals should be interruptible? Hospital staff—such as those in Melrose this morning, at the Borders General hospital—have told me that they have only a 10-day supply of oil left to power their back-up generators, whereas British Gas has advised them that interruptible contracts allow hospitals to be cut off for 45 days. There are 250 other hospitals in the same position.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

The hon. Gentleman is most irresponsible if he is an alarmist on such matters.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

I dare because the hon. Gentleman is irresponsible. He does not mention the fact that there have not been such interruptions, or that there are perfectly satisfactory and substantial back-up fuel supplies. He also does not state that such contracts offer distinct cost advantages to those who must be careful with how much they spend from the public purse. He peddles fears—which are not founded on reality—on matters of real concern to patients of the health care services.