Social Inclusion

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) on securing this debate and on making such a powerful speech in support of his constituents and their interests and concerns regarding the impending closure of Chapelcross nuclear power station.

The Government are well aware of the significant contribution made by the station to the local community over some 43 years. It supplied electricity to Scotland and the rest of the UK through the Anglo-Scottish electricity interconnector. BNFL undertook a careful analysis and, following an economic review of all its Magnox stations, concluded that Chapelcross is no longer economical in today's market conditions. That is why it has announced that it will accelerate the closure date to March 2005, which is some 3 years earlier than previously thought.

That is a commercial decision taken by BNFL in the light of the revised economic assessment and, in particular, falling electricity prices. Those recent falls have benefited industry and consumers nationwide, but there is also less need for the other products from Chapelcross. Decisions about the station's future are a matter for BNFL. The Magnox stations are old and a phased closure programme has long been envisaged. Chapelcross is being closed earlier than previously planned because it is no longer economical in today's market conditions.

It is for the market, not Government, to decide if and by what means the generating capacity of Chapelcross should be replaced. Like my hon. Friend, I regret job losses, but I understand from BNFL that there will be significant job opportunities for some time to come. Approximately half the existing work force of 430 people will be required for defuelling, which can take from three to five years after closure, and thereafter there will be opportunities during the decommissioning process.

Staff will ultimately have to leave the Chapelcross site, but BNFL will work with trade unions and staff to prepare people to move into other jobs. The company hopes that a significant proportion of staff who wish to stay with the company can do so. BNFL is also working with the unions to introduce a lifetime partnership agreement, which appears to offer all that can be done to ensure fair treatment and support staff who leave. The agreement includes retraining and reskilling for those people leaving the company.

My hon. Friend is concerned about the effects of the accelerated closure on the local economy and has amply demonstrated that in his comments today. I have discussed the matter with colleagues in the Scottish Executive and can advise that, in the event of redundancies, support will be provided through the Dumfries and Galloway local response team in conjunction with the Executive's partnership action for continuing employment framework. That should ensure a rapid response from local agencies in respect of advice, support and guidance on the range of

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retraining, upskilling and employment opportunities. I also look forward to the DTZ Pied report, which will be of value to all concerned in the local community.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of building a new nuclear station on the Chapelcross site, saying that the skills base would otherwise be lost. He will be aware that the Government are consulting on energy policy options, including keeping the nuclear option open. This consultation also addresses the difficult issues surrounding security of supply and the future gas imports. A White Paper outlining the Government's conclusion will be published around the turn of the year. The performance and innovation unit report, which preceded this consultation, argued that the nuclear option should be kept open. The Government are not prepared to pre-judge the results of the consultation. I can assure my hon. Friend that Professor David King will be included in the whole energy policy process.

Only last week I opened a workshop in Glasgow organised by my Department in conjunction with the DTI and the Institute of Energy, as a part of the energy White Paper consultation process aimed at key stakeholders. Representatives from across the whole spectrum of energy supply, demand and the environment were present. The nuclear companies, BNFL and British Energy, were well represented and able to put their case forward. Their views will be fed into the consultation process and some of them will chime with those of my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries and for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan).

At the end of the day, any decisions on introducing proposals for new nuclear build lie with the private sector and the type of station will be a decision for the operator. Hon. Members will be aware that power station consents matters are devolved to the Scottish Executive.

Skills will be needed in the future, not only for new nuclear build, but for safe and efficient management of existing liabilities lasting many decades. It is also an important topic specifically covered within the current consultation on energy policy. At local level, the work force are indeed highly skilled and will be an asset to any future employer.

My hon. Friend mentioned the important role that Chapelcross plays in supporting security of supply and grid stability in the region. Indeed, that was central to the case made by the Scotland Office in support of Chapelcross back in January, when access to the interconnector was discussed. Grid support is a matter for Scottish Power, which plans to reinforce supplies to south-west Scotland by 2005.

The Government are getting to grips with the nuclear legacy and it is important to proceed with openness and transparency to build public confidence.

Last week the Government published their White Paper ''Managing the Nuclear Legacy—A Strategy for Action'', which set out a detailed plan for radical changes to the current arrangements for cleaning up the nuclear legacy. It will include the creation of a new national body, the liabilities management authority, with a specific remit to clean up that legacy. The clean-up will be consistent with safety and security and will

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respect the environment, while providing best value for money. It will be important to make the best use of available skills.

I hope that I have dealt with all my hon. Friend's concerns. There are clear opportunities for all concerned to feed their views on new nuclear build into the energy consultation, which is open until 13 September. The Government are considering the whole picture of energy policy and, as I have said, propose to issue a White Paper around the turn of the year.

In response to various recent reports from the PIU, the royal commission on environmental pollution, the Department of Trade and Industry and the House of Lords Select Committees, we initiated the consultation to allow us to make an informed policy response across a range of areas, including the nuclear issue.

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Last week's White Paper sets out our approach to managing the nuclear legacy and describes the new arrangements that will operate in practice. Most importantly, it makes it clear that the Government's priority is to ensure that the clean-up is carried out safely, securely, cost-effectively and in ways that protect the environment.

To conclude this short response to my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate, I hope that the BNFL management, trade unions and staff work together effectively and are successful in reducing the uncertainty facing staff in his constituency. I also hope that they can maximise the opportunities for the staff who wish to stay with the company, and for those who decide to leave.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past One o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Begg, Miss Anne (Chairman)
Barrett, John
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bruce, Malcolm
Cairns, David
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Dr. Lynda
Clarke, Mr. Tom
Connarty, Mr.
Dalyell, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Donohoe, Mr.
Doran, Mr.
Duncan, Mr. Peter
Ewing, Annabelle
Foulkes, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hood, Mr.
Kennedy, Mr. Charles
Kirkwood, Mr.
Liddell, Mrs.
Luke, Mr.
Lyons, Mr.
MacDougall, Mr.
McFall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Marshall, Mr. David
Moore, Mr.
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Osborne, Sandra
Picking, Anne
Reid, Mr. Alan
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, John
Roy, Mr.
Salmond, Mr.
Sarwar, Mr.
Savidge, Mr.
Sheridan, Jim
Smith, Sir Robert
Stewart, Mr. David
Thurso, John
Tynan, Mr.
Weir, Mr.
Wishart, Pete
Worthington, Tony

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Prepared 10 July 2002