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Mrs. Lait: That is as clear as mud. The right hon. Lady is wriggling on the reality that Westminster retains control over the final decision on new nuclear power stations in Scotland. It is useful to have that clarification. It will be fascinating to see how the Government's consultation develops and what the reaction will be not just in the Scottish Executive but throughout the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish Executive Ministers could be overridden unless they set up a planning procedure similar to the one that the Government are suggesting for England and Wales, in which case there may be even more confrontation. The Government have yet again dodged some of the issues raised during the passage of the Scotland Bill in this House when we pointed out its inherent difficulties.
It will be interesting if the right hon. Lady does as it is rumoured she will and seeks to amend the Scotland Act with regard to the number of MSPs. That will require primary legislation, which might be a good opportunity to consider the responsibilities of the UK Government with regard to overriding the Scottish Executive on planning issues such as those relating to nuclear power stations.
I too want briefly to refer to Wales. Like the Secretary of State, I do not for a moment profess to any specific expertise in this area, but I want to draw her attention to the way in which, as far as we can make out, the Government overrode and took no account of the views of the National Assembly for Wales on wind farms. I simply ask whether that would be the approach to any nuclear power consents in Wales? Would the Minister for Industry and Energy override and ignore the National Assembly for Wales?
Mr. Simon Thomas: I believe that the wind farm to which the hon. Lady referred is Cefn Croes in my constituency, which was approved by the Department of Trade and Industry without reference to a public inquiry. I should say on the record that I supported that wind farm, but I felt strongly that there should be a public inquiry. The hon. Lady is right that that is a poor precedent for what might happen in terms of nuclear power development. I understand that the Conservative party supports nuclear power, but does the hon. Lady agree that it is vital that the people of Wales should decide what and where any such new energy development should be in Wales?
Conservatives, as many have already said, want to see balanced energy provision. Scotland produces 50 per cent. of its energy from nuclear power and exports 25 per cent. of its total production to other parts of the UK, so bringing income into Scotland. But Dounreay and Hunterston A are being decommissioned, Chapelcross is due for decommissioning in 2008, Hunterston B in 2011, and Torness not until 2023. As I understand it, there is no way that the Government's ambitious hopes for renewable energy could meet the gap if all those power stations were decommissioned.
Therefore, there is a need to ensure continuity of supply, particularlythe point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)given our increasing reliance on imported gas, the price of which is increasing on the continent, which will inevitably mean a price increase in the UK sooner rather than later .
We welcome the initiatives and commitments by Scottish Power and British Energy to renewables, but we also welcome British Energy's recent agreements to look at the potential for new nuclear power plants. It would seem sensiblethis is the point that my MSP colleagues made to the PIU reviewfor nuclear power plants in Scotland to be sited at Hunterston and Torness where there is already an understanding of the benefits of nuclear power and where the infrastructure is in place. That may save the Secretary of State's bacon because there may be more understanding of nuclear power issues in areas where nuclear power stations already exist.
Mrs. Lait: Chapelcross will be decommissioned in 2008. If British Energy and Scottish Power want to make a planning application for Chapelcross, that is their commercial decision. That is the basis on which I would want matters to proceed; I would not want Government interference.
Mr. Salmond: What is the position of the hon. Lady's party on the development of further combined cycle gas stations in Scotland? Only 15 per cent. of our capacity derives from combined cycle gas, butaccording to the Government's own energy review figuresit costs a quarter as much as nuclear power. Does the hon. Lady think that its use should be extended?
Mrs. Lait: I hope that the hon. Gentleman heard me say that we believe in a balanced energy policy. If the private sector believes that that is the way forward and commercial reasons exist for pursuing it, the private sector should put forward proposals on ensuring the provision of sufficient energy at a reasonable price.
Mrs. Lait: The problem is that the hon. Gentleman's argument is based on a very left-wing political stance that does not understand the market and the need to meet its requirements. [Interruption.] I do not want to get involved in a dialogue on this issue, but one must take account of the fact that science moves on. Some interesting developments are taking place in the provision of nuclear power and/or other forms of energy, which will transform the economics of power provision in the coming years.
We need to break free from parallel lines of thinkingwhereby only one form of nuclear power provision existsand develop new forms. We must look to those who are dedicated to providing decent energy for the UK at the lowest possible cost to offer suggestions on how to develop power provision. That is what we Conservatives support. Labour Members' support for privatisation and references to the market provision of energy is a major change in Labour's energy policy that we can only welcome. I want Scotland to continue to develop and produce energy, but I am concerned that the SNP's policy would limit Scotland's opportunities rather than enhance them.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this vital debate on energy. A constructive debate is necessary, and it is a shame that our discussion has so far been based not on future energy requirements but on the SNP's anti-nuclear stance. The performance and innovation unit's report makes it clear that many questions need to be answered, and it is absolutely essential that the consultation process be based on that report. The consultation process should not be restricted by the dogma of a particular party, but should range as widely as possible. We must consider how best to deliver a balanced energy policy, whether in Scotland or in England.
It is true that, at the moment, Britain is self-sufficient in energy, but that is coming to an end. The fact is that, according to current predictions, we will be a net importer of natural gas within three or four years.
If our present policy remains unchanged, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, gas will supply 70 per cent. of our electricity needs by 2025, and 90 per cent. of that will come from Russia, north Africa or the middle east. That is why we must seriously consider how we move forward, and recognise the social implications as well as addressing the economic and environmental issues.
Public consultation on the report must be wide-ranging. It will lead to the publication of a White Paper some time in the autumn, and I hope that the debate on it is comprehensive. Unfortunately, tonight's debate is based on the froth that we have come to expect from the Scottish National party.
The SNP says that there is an adverse reaction to nuclear energy in this country. Much has been said about Holyrood having the final say, but we could have avoided this debate if SNP Members had spoken to one another.