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9.45 pm

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I congratulate the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) on his enormous generosity in absolving anyone else of responsibility for his speech. I am sure that SNP researchers in particular will be deeply grateful that their reputation has been restored.

A number of hon. Members have made the point that one of the most astonishing things about today's debate is that, given the opportunity of a once-a-year, three-hour debate on the Floor of the House, the SNP chose to discuss an apparent difference between the Minister for Industry and Energy and me about a hypothetical decision that might be taken a number of years from now. Let us think of the topics that it might have chosen. It could have selected the whole energy review as it affects Scotland. We have drifted on to that subject, but it could have been the main focus of our discussion. It could have selected the implementation of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which aims to crack down on drug dealers and money launderers—issues of real concern to my constituents and the rest of Scotland.

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The SNP could have spoken about the Scottish economy, but we know now why it dodged that subject. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has made dire predictions and accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of talking up Scotland, and he has fervently hoped and prayed for a downturn in the Scottish economy, but his predictions have been proved entirely wrong. Output has risen sharply in the service sector, according to the Bank of Scotland report published yesterday, and manufacturing output is at last on the turn.

Mr. Salmond: At last.

Mr. Foulkes: Indeed. Given last week's seismic event in Perth, one would have thought that the SNP would jump at the opportunity to debate its now explicit commitment to independence and separation—but of course that represents the policy of the Swinney wing of the party, rather than the Salmond wing.

As we are on the subject of energy, let us examine the hon. Gentleman's credentials to talk on the subject. Where better to look than at his weekly column in the News of the World? The Register of Members' Interests shows that the hon. Gentleman receives between £10,000 and £15,000 per annum for the column, so it must be good, it must be accurate and it must be authoritative. He says:

he always calls us London Labour, no matter that we come from Glasgow, Dundee and elsewhere—

wait for it—

Dounreay? An existing nuclear station? As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) pointed out, the existing power stations are Torness in East Lothian, Hunterston in Ayrshire and Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire. Dounreay is a prototype fast breeder reactor, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) knows only too well. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to Dounreay reaching the end of its life. There is something else he should know: Dounreay is currently being decommissioned.

Mr. Salmond: I may be one of the few Members to have visited every fast reactor in the world, with the sole exception of one in Russia. I am sure that the Minister has not done that.

Let us get to the nub of the matter. The quote from the Minister for Industry and Energy is important and has been well advertised. He said:

Forget all the fluff and flannel: does the Minister support that? Is it correct, or is it not?

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman's authoritative column in the News of the World includes a picture of Dounreay, next to which appears the caption, "Atomic dud". It is not Dounreay that is the atomic dud. I think we all know who that is.

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If we had had a substantive debate on the energy review, we could have talked about the Prime Minister's vision in setting the PIU to consider energy policy for the next 50 years. That review was chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy. I was there to represent the interests of Scotland and closely consulted Ministers and officials in the Scottish Executive to ensure that Scotland's views were properly known. The review had the important remit of ensuring security and diversity of supply. Several Members have mentioned security of supply, particularly for gas imports. Diversity of supply means providing more than one, or one and a half, areas of supply.

Annabelle Ewing: Let me return to the central point of the debate. Does the Minister stick by what he said in answer to me at the Scottish Grand Committee on 13 February? He said then that responsibility for agreeing on new power stations was devolved to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, which accords with what the Minister for Industry and Energy said. Does he agree with that, or does he now adopt the new view expressed in his recent BBC interview?

Mr. Foulkes: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that point extremely well.

If we had discussed the energy review, we would have been able to discuss what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross rightly called our important commitment to hitting our Kyoto targets. The review recommends a major expansion of energy efficiency.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foulkes: No, no, no. The hon. Gentleman had 32 minutes, and he spent half of them attacking me. I have only eight minutes in which to reply, so he can sit down.

The energy review recommended hugely increased, challenging targets for renewables, which will not be easily achieved. SNP Members deceive people if they lead them to believe that the renewables obligation can be easily kept.

Mr. Alan Reid: Will the Minister tell us who has the final say on whether a nuclear power station can be granted to Scotland? Is it a Scottish Minister, is it a United Kingdom Minister, or does the Minister not know?

Mr. Foulkes: I love multiple choice questions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained the position. Since the hon. Gentleman represents the provisional wing of the Liberal Democrats and is an unreconstructed Luddite, perhaps he might come and talk to me afterwards.

Let us do the SNP the courtesy of examining its energy policy and taking it seriously, no matter how difficult that may be. Let us go back to the words of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, not this time in the Press and Journal, the house journal of the SNP, in a weekly column for which he also receives between £5,000 and £10,000, but from his column in the News of the World.

says the tabloid tipster. Let us be honest, as, to give her credit, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has been on this point. Nuclear power stations will come to

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the end of their lives over the next few decades. Our coal power stations will also come to the end of their lives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) knows only too well. Of course, coal is still an important energy source. One third of the UK's electricity needs were met by coal last year. Apart from Longannet, however, Scotland now has no indigenous deep-mined coal, yet the Scottish National party opposes all open-cast applications. That would mean that we would have to rely even more on imported coal, and that there would be more CO 2 emissions, even with the clean coal technology that this Government support.

Mr. Connarty: Will my hon. Friend, unlike SNP Members, answer the question that Scottish Coal is asking at the moment? Will our Government look seriously at the problems involving the fault that Scottish Coal has found? It will require at least £5 million to tide it over until it gets back into production. Will we look at the matter seriously, unlike the SNP, which has refused to talk about it this evening?

Mr. Foulkes: Yes, we have already given Scottish Coal £41 million. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had discussions with Scottish Coal's management and with the unions, and we are looking at the issue very seriously. This is an important matter.

As my right hon. Friend said, oil and gas reserves are being extended by the pilot initiative that she started, which is now under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy.

Mr. Key: Where is he?

Mr. Foulkes: He is in Scotland, fulfilling a long-standing engagement.

Mr. Salmond rose

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has had many opportunities to speak.

Oil and gas reserves are finite, even when we take into account all the work that we are doing with carbon sequestration. That leaves us with renewables, which the Government strongly support. The renewables obligation will mean that there will be a £1 billion market for renewables by 2010, which will represent a very significant part of our energy sources. There are problems of transmission, however. Power lines and under-sea cables are expensive, and they are not popular, as we know from the Northern Ireland interconnector.

Furthermore, all these developments need planning approval, and that is not a foregone conclusion. So, over the next few decades, we could be faced with having to decide between agreeing to an application for a new nuclear power station, and having increased electricity costs, more CO 2 emissions and seeing the lights go out all over Scotland at peak times. None of us would be very popular if that were to happen. That will not be an easy decision, and I am not sure that whoever has to make it will welcome the responsibility. Surely, however, it is right that we should attempt to clarify now exactly who will be making those decisions.

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I confess to the House that I made one mistake. The mistake was to believe that, if I raised an important issue in public—open government at work, if you like—the SNP Opposition would be willing to have a sensible debate about it, instead of the Pavlovian reaction that we have seen today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has rightly pointed out that it was I who raised the issue. Every time an issue is raised, however—be it on energy policy, immigration policy or defence policy—the nationalists are never prepared to discuss its merits properly. Instead, they claim that everything would be better if it were decided in Scotland. That is the magic bullet that will solve every problem.

The nationalists are obsessed by the constitution, because their only political aim in life is to break up Britain—people, especially Conservative Members, should recognise that—to tear the United Kingdom apart, and to lead us into a constitutional confrontation. [Interruption.] I was just trying to wake the hon. Member for Beckenham up, Mr. Speaker. At the weekend, the nationalists had to admit that a separate Scotland would not automatically be a member of the European Union. It could reject policies such as the common fisheries policy, raising the spectre of a new cod war. This is only one of the many uncertainties we would face if Scotland were ever duped into a divorce from the rest of the United Kingdom.

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