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8.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) spoke for 32 minutes, and we got to the crux of the issue 31 minutes into his speech, but the Government welcome debate about the future energy needs of our country. We are addressing those issues, as any responsible Government should, and we are in the midst of a fundamental review of energy needs. That is why the Cabinet Office has recently published the performance and innovation unit's energy review, why we will consult on it and why we are planning to publish a White Paper later this year.

Energy needs must—I repeat, must—be looked at in a United Kingdom context, in the interests of all our people and of the entire United Kingdom economy and environment. It has taken a visionary Labour Government to see the need to look 50 years into the future and assess what the United Kingdom-wide demand for energy throughout that period will be and how it might best be met. It has taken a visionary Labour Government to develop a strategy that ensures current policy commitments are consistent with longer-term goals.

Ensuring security of supply, tackling climate change and maintaining low prices are key issues. However, tonight's debate is not about the vital issue of energy but about the Scottish National party's distorted priorities. Its motion is based on the false assumption that the Government have a master plan to build more nuclear power plants and are determined to foist them on an unwilling Scotland. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no such proposals. The Government have looked at all the options for energy supply for the next half a century and refused to rule anything out.

Mr. Salmond: Last week, the Minister for Industry and Energy said:

Does the Secretary of State support that position?

Mrs. Liddell: I urge the hon. Gentleman to be patient. I will get to that point, and to a number of other issues that he raised. I suggest that he relax and hauds his wheesht for a wee while longer. This Government will keep open all our energy options so that we can do what is in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond: If we cannot find out whether the Secretary of State supports the position of the Minister for Industry and Energy, will she say whether she supports that of her own Minister of State, who said that reserved area decisions made north of the border should not have a significant impact south of the border?

Mrs. Liddell: Again, the hon. Gentleman should be patient. He is wasting more time, having called an unnecessary vote at 7.15 pm to delay the start of this debate, spoken for 32 minutes without saying anything and sought to delay the progress of the debate. What is he frightened about? I will come to what my hon. Friends said on BBC radio, but his motion raises several other issues, and I intend to take them into account as well.

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I shall now return to the fundamental assumption behind the PIU energy review: the need for a balanced energy policy. That is essential not just for our continued economic strength, but for our strategic security. The specific and very narrow issue that the SNP wants to discuss tonight is hypothetical and light-years away from the priorities of the Scottish people. The SNP has used its one chance in the year to have the Floor of the House to discuss not how we can advance Scotland's competitiveness or secure an environmentally balanced energy policy, but how planning consents work and who says what when—and even that is based on a false premise.

Mr. Doran: Is my right hon. Friend surprised that the leader of the Scottish National party has taken that view? He is sitting next to the man whom his party seems to be spending so much time promoting as the hardest working Member of Parliament, and next to him is the sleaze-buster general, who seems to be making it his job to root out sleaze wherever he finds it. None of them has a policy of any interest to the Scottish people.

Mrs. Liddell: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I shall deal with those points later. The people of Scotland want to know how we can secure for our children a place at the centre of the knowledge economy, with a robust and competitive economic environment, but the SNP wants to talk about a mythical company producing a proposal at some point in the distant future to build a nuclear power station that the Scottish Executive then reject on planning grounds. So what? That is their right. Planning is devolved, and the fact that executive devolution was granted to the Scottish Executive by the Government in relation to the Electricity Act 1989 as well is a sign of the close partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive. I did not hear the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan refer to that Act during his speech; he obviously did not get round to that in his research.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mrs. Liddell: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman for the third time.

Mr. Salmond: Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 is part of what we are debating. The right hon. Lady seems to be saying that that power lies with the Scottish Executive, who are responsible to the Scottish Parliament. Is that the end of the story? If so, what on earth was the Minister of State talking about last week, when he said that the policy in Scotland should not

Who will take the final decision—Westminster or the Scottish Parliament?

Mrs. Liddell: I know that the hon. Gentleman likes the sound of his own voice, but if he will keep quiet a little longer, he will be told the definitive position.

The SNP always sees these issues in terms of confrontation, tension and failure. Its argument, like that of the hon. Gentleman, is ill informed and has been inadequately researched. It falters precisely because of the partnership that exists between the Scottish Executive and

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the Government. I have no doubt that the SNP wishes that there were no such partnership. Its only hope of carving out a future for its separatist ambitions is to seek to foster such conflict. It is out of touch and out of tune with the growth of a modern Scotland.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Liddell: No, I am going to make some progress. The hon. Lady may be lucky in catching the eye of the Deputy Speaker later.

Let me explain the position, as set out in the Scotland Act 1998, on planning consents in general, not just for nuclear power stations. Planning law is devolved. It is clear that the intention behind the Scotland Act was that the Scottish Parliament would have legislative competence for the planning regime in general, and that would include its application to airports and nuclear power stations, just as much as it has competence for the planning regime for any other type of development.

Nuclear energy, however, is reserved by dint of section D4 of part II of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act. The provisions of schedule 4 also make it plain that the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence for planning in reserved areas to maintain consistency of approach throughout devolved and reserved areas. That deals with the point that we are discussing tonight.

I ask the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan to listen carefully to my next point because it concerns the area that he did not see fit to research. Scotland Office Ministers have been involved in discussions on two recent policy reviews in which consent procedures for major projects have come up: the performance and innovation unit energy review and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions Green Paper on new procedures for dealing with major infrastructure projects of national importance.

In both instances, the Scottish Executive were involved in consultations with the PIU and the DTLR. Both reviews drew attention to the UK dimension of some major infrastructure projects. One such dimension is the extent to which reserved law continues to apply to the development of such major projects—law that is a matter for this Parliament, and law that this Parliament must make with regard not just to England and Wales but to Scotland.

For example, some of the infrastructure projects referred to in annexe C of the DTLR consultation paper require separate authorisations under specific legislation relevant to those developments, quite apart from planning development permissions. In particular, the construction of power stations or overhead power lines needs authorisation under part I of the Electricity Act, as well as needing planning permission. There are similar specific authorisation procedures for pipeline developments.

That means that both Parliaments may have legislative competence to make law relating to controls governing such infrastructure developments. But there are other ways in which UK responsibility may apply. In the context of energy developments such as power stations, it remains the responsibility of the Government and of this Parliament to ensure that there are sustainable and secure

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supplies of energy for industry and for domestic consumers throughout the UK. We have to have regard to this country's need for energy supplies.

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