Scottish Energy in the 21st Century

[back to previous text]

Mr. Foulkes: That is a serious question and I promise to write to the hon. Gentleman answering every point that he raised. I have the time to write letters as I do not write columns for all the newspapers, as the hon. Gentleman seems to do—[Laughter.]—including the racing column.

As the Secretary of State and the Minister said earlier, the PIU report is a report to Government, which will be published tomorrow. I caution people not to believe that it is Government policy; we will have to consider its recommendations. It will start a debate on the issue and set out the facts, options and scenarios. It will also remind us of the Kyoto target; little has been said today about carbon emissions and global warming, yet the Government must take account of those important requirements, just as it is our remit to take account of the security and diversity of our supply of energy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South is right about the potential of the continental shelf, which is greater than we originally thought. The investment last year was £3 billion and will be even greater in 2001. The Clare, Argyll and Buzzard fields were mentioned earlier; there are many more reserves than we thought there would be, and there are more to come. We commended the PILOT initiative, started by my right hon. Friend and continued by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson).

My right hon. Friend earlier raised the matter of new, fuel cell technology, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gordon. We must look beyond the next few years, or even decades, when considering how to store energy more efficiently and effectively. The Government are supporting research into fuel cells and will shortly issue a consultation on the future powering of vehicles, as transport uses 25 per cent. of energy supplies.

Column Number: 38

Members on both sides of the Committee have rightly concentrated on the importance of renewables. I share their enthusiasm and have done for some time. I can tell the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) that I tried to persuade previous Governments to be enthusiastic about renewables, and I agree that there is a great potential for Scotland to benefit from them. I visited the Wavegen machine in Islay, which is great, and the Scottish Power wind turbine site at Harlock Hill in my constituency--I give 100 per cent. support to all wind power applications in my constituency.

When the PIU report is published tomorrow, those who argued today for increases in the target for renewables will not be disappointed. I hope that I do not get into trouble for having released that information in advance. However, I caution hon. Members to be aware that there are significant unresolved issues. The electricity grid is the weakest, whereas the potential for renewables is the greatest. We have heard about planning constraints and problems of low flying, but not about the problems at Prestwick airport—particularly the radar—that is affected by wind farms. It is a genuine problem that, like the others, must be resolved.

Capital investment is also necessary. I would like briefly to mention, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Angus, the extent of Department of Trade and Industry investment in renewables—£55.5 million for research and development, for example. In March 2001, the Prime Minister announced an additional £100 million to support renewable energy technology, which has had a huge impact. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, from being on the margins and fringes, renewables are now moving into the mainstream of our electricity supply.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is right about energy efficiency. When he reads the PIU report tomorrow, he will find a strong emphasis on the importance of energy efficiency and of taking account of demand. He spoke about mis-selling by electricity companies, and I have received complaints about that myself. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department will investigate further.

Having said all that and having declared myself a strong enthusiast for renewables, I want to inject just one cautionary note. My right hon. Friend mentioned it and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross picked up on it. The Government's job is to ensure that the lights stay on, that the television still works and that transport still runs. We will not be popular if the lights go off because our constituents do not have enough electricity to meet their needs.

I have been a long-term nuclear sceptic. I took part in the Malwarcher march in the 1970s and I managed to have Chapeldonan removed as a potential nuclear power station site, so I have a long history of involvement in the movement. However, we need to keep the option of new or replacement nuclear power open. If other sources cannot meet the demand, nuclear power may need to be considered further. I say

Column Number: 39

that with some reluctance and disappointment, but it is vital to recognise our responsibility to ensure sufficient electricity supply for the future.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I thank the Minister for giving way so near to the end of his speech. He has just brought up the nuclear issue. We cannot prejudge what will appear in tomorrow's report, but will he confirm that planning consent for new nuclear power stations in Scotland is an entirely devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Foulkes: I am not expecting tomorrow's report to be predictive on new nuclear power. I am saying only that the nuclear option needs to be kept open. I have said previously that the responsibility for agreeing on new power stations is devolved to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, but they also have to recognise their joint responsibility with us to ensure that electricity continues to be available for their constituents.

We have had a good debate. I wish that I had more time to mention coal, which is important to my constituency and I hope will continue to be important in the future. We have invested £41 million to keep Longannet going, which many hon. Members have welcomed.

The astonishing aspect of our debate, as always, is that Scottish National party Members see a panacea for everything. The hon. Member for Angus concluded his over-long contribution by saying that the way to solve all the problems would be an independent Scotland, and he implied that that miracle would solve everything. However, there was no mention of the North sea oil fund that we used to hear about. That is because the SNP now realises that that is totally foolish--

        It being One o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the Committee lapsed, without Question put.

        Campbeltown to Ballycastle Ferry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee do now adjourn.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

1 pm

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I am delighted to be able to raise a matter of such immense and immediate importance to Kintyre and Moyle, which will be directly affected by the new ferry service. I am sure that the Minister will rightly wish to stress benefits when he replies, but I want to focus on the wider implications of the decision to initiate a ferry service from Campbeltown to Ballycastle, and possible benefits for my own constituency. I shall address the role of the Scotland Office in bringing the service about, and I shall ask specific questions about the status of the project and the next steps to be taken.

I shall give a brief recap of how we reached the present point for the benefit of the few hon. Members who may not be intimate with every detail of the matter. For a couple of summers between 1997 and

Column Number: 40

1999, a commercial ferry service operated between Campbeltown and Ballycastle. It was the brainchild of the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth. Alas, it transpired to be a glorious photo opportunity with no substance, no strategy and no future—rather like the noble Lord himself.

The service was limited to sporadic operations during the summer months, which ensured an unstable and unsustainable impact on both local economies—an aquatic boom and bust. However, far worse was the dogmatic insistence that such a service had to be operated on a strictly commercial basis. Anyone could have predicted that that was completely unsuitable for the route. The service failed and the project languished, as did so many other Tory transport and economic initiatives.

I understand that the project would still be languishing if it were not for the energetic intervention of Scotland Office Ministers and, especially, the determined engagement of the Minister for Industry and Energy. I hope that the Minister of State will spell out the nature and scope of the collaborative effort to instate a viable and sustainable ferry link between Campbeltown and Ballycastle. I deliberately do not use the word ''reinstate'' because I hope that the new ferry service will not be a rehash of what failed before.

The collaboration is important because, in our post-devolution age, such joint work involving central Government, two devolved Administrations and local councils, communities and businesses could serve as a model for future successful collaborations. I would be grateful to hear the Minister's thoughts on that.

Last month, we heard the welcome announcement that necessary agreements have been reached and the tendering process is well under way.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): The tendering process is not under way. It cannot start until this Parliament transfers powers to the Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives. That is causing the hold up.

David Cairns: I regret to say that the hon. Gentleman does not have a great track record on making predictions. As recently as 8 January, he was predicting that the initiative would flounder in a bureaucratic nightmare. That was less than two weeks before it was announced that it was going to take place, so forgive me if I do not take his objection too seriously. There is market testing. We cannot simply go into a market and announce something without testing it beforehand. There have been expressions of interest—I understand that the Minister will clarify that point.

It will not be a summer-only service like its predecessor. It will operate for 11 months of the year. The initial term for the contract will be 5 years. The maximum amount of annual subsidy that can be made available for the support of the service will be £1 million.

Can the Minister confirm that the service, once under way, will be allowed the full five years to establish itself and grow as much of a commercial market as it can? Businesses in the west of Scotland

Column Number: 41

and in Northern Ireland—the Minister for Industry and Energy mentioned one such company—will want to take advantage of the service. If we are to avoid a return to the localised boom and bust of the past, businesses must be confident that if they build the use of the ferry into their business plans, it will not be snatched away from under them with insufficient warning, as has happened previously. A lack of medium-term investment in both planning and transport was the plague of the UK economy for far too long. I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that we have truly learned lessons from the past.

It is encouraging that the service will operate for 11 months of the year and will no longer be a summer only operation. Presumably, the off-month will allow for a winter service and refitting of the ferry. Will the Minister give an assurance that, regardless of whether the ferry is based in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the matter of its refit will be open to free and fair competition? If it will, may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the excellent ferry facilities available at the Garvel dry dock in Greenock? Semple Cochrane plc, the company there, already refit much of the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet, and they send service management teams to oversee refits in other parts of the UK. I am sure that the firm would submit an excellent value-for-money tender if it is a clean and fair competition, as I am sure it will be.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 13 February 2002