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8.13 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): First, I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to be able to contribute to this important debate. Various interests have been disclosed, and I should make it clear that I do not come from the north-west. I come from the glorious south-west. The old Magnox headquarters at Berkeley is in my constituency, and the British Energy plant at Barnwood, which is not a million miles away. Another interest is that I went to Denmark a couple of weeks ago, a trip which was paid for partly by the British Wind Energy Association. It may seem strange that I choose to put that on the record. I do so because the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), was also on the trip.

I welcome the Select Committee's report, which is balanced, incisive and thought-provoking. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), put the case well. I am sorry that there was a slight disagreement about my view that the UK should have something in particular to offer to nuclear energy. I was not trying to play the nationalistic card. We have an international obligation that I want to see delivered.

I shall not speak for long because I know that other Labour Members wish to contribute to the debate. However, I wish to outline two over-arching themes that

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demonstrate why it is important that public-private partnership for BNFL is debated, and to consider that within the context of the wider nuclear industry.

One theme has been well rehearsed already, and that is global warming. That being so, I shall not talk about it at length. However, it is important. There is the integral link between the nuclear industry and renewables. I have always been a supporter of the nuclear industry, and that is not necessarily because I represent many people who work in it. I like to see myself also as a keen supporter of renewables. That is why I went to Denmark. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) in his place, and I think that he and I share an interest of the Globe UK group in that we want to advance renewables. It is important that we try to understand the course that energy provision will take and the way in which the nuclear industry and renewables can be tied within it.

More important is the reason why I welcome the debate and welcome the Government's increasing commitment to the nuclear industry. It is necessary to retain the basic integrity of the industry. That involves the people who work in it, those who could do so and those who may choose to work in it in future. If we do not keep it buoyant and alive, even at a minimal level of provision, we must consider how decommissioning will take place in the UK and abroad.

It is essential that we attract the best, the brightest and the most committed people to the industry. I am saddened when the industry is subjected to easy digs. Its very fabric is attacked, including the people who work in it, who support it and are committed to it. That approach is reprehensible because we need these people. I take any opportunity to support them and to speak on their behalf. We are also talking about valuable sites and it is important to consider how we use them and develop them, and not only for nuclear purposes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) said, we are talking about a massive industry that accounts for billions of pounds each year, and we underestimate that at our peril. It is a key player in the global provision of energy. Perhaps that has not been made clear so far. We can feel rather proud about the way in which we are working with the Americans through Westinghouse and the new ABB link-up. Within the industry, we have an opportunity to influence what is happening in the developed world and in the less well developed world.

The debate is about how we can take BNFL to PPP. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil, the Chairman of the Select Committee, made it clear that PPP has been delayed, but not indefinitely. I am sure that the Minister will talk about timetables. We need to make that clear, if for no one else, for those who are linked to the company: the work force and other stakeholders, one of whom are the Government themselves.

There is another issue that has not really been brought out: the Government are not only the owner of the company, but the regulator of the industry. It is not crucial to this debate, but it is important that we again put on record that there are not many industries that have two regulators: in this case, the Health and Safety Executive and the nuclear installations inspectorate. There are occasions when tensions between the regulators can grow.

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One of the things that the Minister might want to comment on is: if we move towards the PPP, what will be the regulatory outcome and how will the regulator work in relation to the new company?

Quite simply, the industry needs to be carefully regulated. We know already that a degree of argument has been advanced--I think that it is fair--about the need for greater transparency. We must build on that, but that can be done only if we have an effective relationship between the company, industry and regulator.

Increasingly, there is a debate about what way forward we take our energy policy. I feel strongly that one of the things that the Government could do--this was a failure of the previous Government--is to make clear what our energy policy is, and what the different component parts should be. Again, I pay tribute to the Trade and Industry Committee. In one of its earlier reports, it intimated how crucial it was that we took that debate forward and were clear about the different component parts.

We cannot have it every which way. We must be clear that, if we are going to move from the current component parts--approximately speaking, one third is nuclear, one third is fossil fuel via coal, and one third is fossil fuel via gas, with a small amount made up of renewables; thankfully a growing amount--and to look forward to the next 20 to 30 years, we must make up our minds. If we are not going to be able genuinely to get renewables into some acceptable framework, so that they are a genuine contributor of some size to energy provision, we will have a massive shortfall. The advantage of nuclear is that it gives head room, not just in this country, but in the wider world, on how to think our way through the way that we need to go.

I totally oppose the idea that gas alone can pick up the shortfall. There are projections that, if we do not get it right, gas will grow to potentially 60 per cent. of provision. For all sorts of reasons, it will not deal with the global warming problem or, more particularly, with the problem of our misuse of a valuable resource. We need to recognise how--if can move forward--nuclear has an important part to play, but we need to link that with renewables.

I would like to see the day--I have mentioned it to the company, so it is nothing new--when, alongside nuclear provision, we have wind turbines and perhaps some biomass not far away, linking that with solar energy, so that we can genuinely see that energy can be provided efficiently, effectively, safely and in an environmentally acceptable way. If we can do it in this country, it can happen elsewhere.

From the company, we are looking for a clear statement of its strategy. In its last report, it provided that. It has begun to reveal the ways in which it wishes to take things onward. As has been mentioned, it has a new chairman and a new chief executive. It is restructuring itself, so that it can move forward in such a way that it achieves not only the trust that needs to be built, but the efficiency that it needs to be able to prove. In that way, it can show that the industry has a future.

This is also about the way in which the Government have to respond. As I have said, the Government wear several different hats. They are not just the owner of BNFL, but BNFL's regulator and the employer of many thousands of people. That puts many obligations at their door. As I have intimated, they must also look at their international obligations.

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We can be critical about some of the things that have happened in the nuclear industry, but one of the things that we have done that is pleasing--again it is not widely known--has been to help the Ukrainians, formerly the Soviet Union, through the disaster of Chernobyl. I know that the Government have made available considerable sums of money to help the industry there to work through its obvious difficulties.

We cannot pretend that, if we do not get our energy policy right, the rest of the world, particularly the less developed world, can do anything other than copy our mistakes. Therefore, it is important that we have--as we are having today--a full and fruitful debate and look at the ways in which we can genuinely move the debate forward, not just here, but internationally.

I want us to have high environmental standards. The whole point about the industry is that, although it can be criticised in many respects for some of the things that have gone wrong, anyone who goes on to a nuclear site can never fail to be impressed by the degree of safety, the security and the way in which it takes seriously its environmental obligations. We must recognise that we must meet the obligations under the Ospar--Oslo and Paris--convention. We must deal with the problem of technetium and so forth, but that can be done only if the industry is given time and space to move forward appropriately, rather than being continually pushed down and out.

That is the obligation that we have. It is an obligation that we should have to the work force and to the rest of the stakeholders. That is why it would be useful if the Government, even if they would not go as far as to say that they would consider new build, looked at the options--in the next 20 to 30 years, we must get an effective policy together in terms of energy provision. That is something that we can begin to do now. I am sure that the Minister will think hard about that and make an appropriate response.

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