Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The hon. Gentleman talks about nuclear power stations being foisted on the Scottish people. Does he therefore support Bruce Crawford MSP in calling for civil disobedience?

Mr. Salmond: I am not familiar with that, but I remember taking part in peaceful civil disobedience against nuclear dumping in Scotland with many members of the Labour party. The right hon. Lady's views may develop on such matters, but mine do not.

Mrs. Liddell rose

Mr. Salmond: If the Secretary of State can contain herself for a second, I will give way in a moment. No doubt she will take the opportunity to clarify Government thinking on the matter and tell us where the decision will be taken so that Mr. Crawford and others can decide how to react.

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman need not worry: I shall have plenty of opportunities to make those points. Even if he has not heard statements from Mr. Crawford about civil disobedience, will he clarify his own view and tell us whether he supports its use in trying to stop the building of nuclear power stations—yes or no?

Mr. Salmond: It depends on the circumstances that might arise. Let me take the point further. Let us imagine the circumstances in which a majority—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been asked a question; he must be allowed to reply.

Mr. Salmond: I do not think that Labour Members are necessarily going to like the reply. If the Secretary of

5 Mar 2002 : Column 221

State can envisage circumstances in which a majority in the Scottish Parliament want it to exercise its powers to stop the building of a nuclear power station, and if we can envisage a position à la gauleiter from Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, the Minister of State, Scotland Office, who wants to impose a Westminster veto on such democratic decisions, many people in Scotland may say that peaceful civil disobedience is appropriate.

Mrs. Liddell rose

Mr. Salmond: I shall give way to the Secretary of State once more. If I may say so, I should then like to make just a little progress. I do not think there has been any time in politics when the Secretary of State has given way to me three times in a debate, never mind three times consecutively.

Mrs. Liddell: So the hon. Gentleman confirms that the answer is yes and that he supports civil disobedience.

Mr. Salmond: If the right hon. Lady is confirming that she and her Government intend to override a democratic view of the Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] She nods; is she agreeing with the argument that Westminster is going to override that process? She nods again. If that is what is happening, I can assure her that many people in Scotland will think that the sort of response that I have described is appropriate. She will not join us on the barricades, but that is no surprise whatever.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): When will we hear exactly what alternative the Scottish National party proposes?

Mr. Salmond: I have just given way three times to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister for Industry and Energy, the other hon. Member for Cunninghame, shares his near neighbour's enthusiasm for the rights of the Scottish Parliament. I hope also that I shall be given a chance to develop my speech and that we will hear more about exactly that matter.

I was asking whether what is happening is part of a pattern or a one-off blunder by the Minister of State. [Hon. Members: "It is a pattern."] My colleagues say that it is a pattern in which the Scotland Office is arguing for taking back the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Executive. I think that such a pattern is evident in current issues, such as free personal care—[Interruption.] I say to the parliamentary Labour party that that is an important policy for many people in Scotland. It was pursued by the Scottish Parliament, but there was subsequently a dispute with the Department of Health and the then Department of Social Security about the payment of £22 million that was held back. No doubt, the Scottish Executive looked to the Scotland Office for some support and wanted it to advance the argument as the custodian of the Scotland Act—after all, that is what the Secretary of State recently called herself. Instead, it seemed to adopt a policy of arguing in favour of the UK Departments, but against the Scottish Executive and the spirit of devolution.

The position on Sewel motions is extraordinary. Some 31 such motions have been passed from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. The SNP agreed with many of them, but last week we saw the procedure that is now being adopted, whereby such a motion goes through the

5 Mar 2002 : Column 222

Scots Parliament and is subsequently transformed and amended by this place, but does not go back to the Scots Parliament for confirmation. I think that we can see a pattern developing. People have asked about the role of the Scotland Office in the post-devolution environment. [Interruption.] I think that we are identifying that role now—it is to argue against Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and to thwart the Scottish Executive. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not agree, they will have to cite examples. On free personal care, Sewel motions, nuclear power stations—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must listen to the hon. Gentleman's speech. Hon. Members cannot constantly intervene from a sedentary position.

Mr. Salmond: The sedentary interventions would not get a lot better if Labour Members got to their feet, so I do not think that we should complain too much.

The second issue that I want to explore relates to the circumstances in which any reasonable Scottish Executive will envisage a configuration of power and energy development in Scotland that is different from what is envisaged in Westminster. We had a good debate in the Scottish Grand Committee a couple of weeks ago—

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from nuclear power, does he agree that although it is certainly right for the whole United Kingdom to be involved in decisions about nuclear power—a nuclear accident would affect an area of its size—the crucial point is that the Government should not ride roughshod over the concerns of people in Scotland and Wales? One gets the feeling that there is a significant danger of that happening under the current policy arrangements.

Mr. Salmond: There is a significant danger. Perhaps the Minister of State is involved in a much more subtle plan than any of us realise.

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): A cunning plan.

Mr. Salmond: Yes, perhaps he has a cunning plan and is the Baldrick of Scottish politics. As a lifelong, heartfelt devolutionist, perhaps the only way he could see of raising the issue about the Scottish Parliament—this point of view has been suggested to me—was to give that apparently careless interview to the BBC last week. Some people think that he was being much more cunning and was merely starting the argument running because he wants the position of Scotland and Wales to be defended. [Interruption.] It is clear that some of his colleagues think that that suggestion is a bit far-fetched, but I still have faith in him, even if they do not.

I was about to consider circumstances in which any reasonable Scottish Executive might determine that Scotland's energy configuration was different from that south of the border. Currently, if all the power stations in Scotland are running at full strength, we have a capacity of 12,499 MW. The normal running capacity is 9,000 MW and peak demand in Scotland is 5,000 MW. There is currently huge overcapacity in Scotland.

We have a huge opportunity in relation to two significant developments. In that context, the absence of the Minister for Industry and Energy from this debate is

5 Mar 2002 : Column 223

extraordinary, given that he represents half the story. He sat through the previous debate, but is not speaking in this one, despite the fact that his position is interesting and important in relation to it. I understand that he has an alternative diary engagement; obviously, that has not kept the Scotland Office away, although I accept that there can be pressures on the ministerial diary. None the less, he expressed his view that there is huge potential for development of renewable resources in Scotland, and it was backed by the Scottish Executive, which said that the proportion of Scottish electricity capacity provided by renewables could increase from its current level of 10 per cent. to 30 per cent.

Furthermore, as the Minister of State knows from visiting Peterhead power station in my constituency, we have not only the most efficient combined cycle gas reactor in the world, but 800 MW of spare capacity that cannot currently be used because the connecting lines on the east coast are inadequate for advancing the major opportunity to use gas power that is currently sitting unused. Scotland has under-invested in gas power in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom and perhaps has more potential in terms of renewables than anywhere in Europe, to echo the comments of the Minister for Industry and Energy. I welcome his initiative and the establishment of the renewables unit; even though there are initially only six jobs, an important signpost for the future has none the less been given in Aberdeen this week.

Those are all important developments, but no one who considers the situation from a reasonable position—and certainly not the Government's energy policy review—in terms of a Scottish perspective of renewing the existing stations or establishing new ones after the old ones have reached the end of their economic or technical life could suggest other than that our nuclear option will be controversial, given the significance and prominence of clean technology coal and the potential for expansion of gas power, as well as the huge potential for renewables. I can well foresee—

Next Section

IndexHome Page