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6 Feb 2003 : Column 508—continued

Amendment of Schedule 12 to The Electricity Act 1989

Mr. Stunell: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 26, leave out from 'schedule)' to end of line 28 and insert—

6 Feb 2003 : Column 509

The amendment relates to the ceiling on the amount that can be transferred from the Government's coffers to those of British Energy. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the existing limit that applies to Government aid in parallel circumstances is £1 billion and that that maximum can be varied by the House to £2.5 billion. The Bill proposes to change those limits so that there is no limit whatever.

The amendment concedes that the Minister might need a higher ceiling than he is given in current legislation. We are saying that the appropriate new ceiling is £3.5 billion—a 350 per cent. increase on the existing limit. Even in terms of the extended limit that is currently permissible, that would be a 40 per cent. increase. In fairness to the official Opposition, I point out that new clause 2 contains similar provision that would multiply that figure by about three to a very substantial £10 billion.

My question to the Committee is this: how could it possibly vote against the amendment or new clause 2? How could such figures be exceeded? After my previous contribution, the Minister said that it was one of my paranoid fantasies to suppose that money might be channelled via British Energy to British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Perhaps that is so, but what fantasy exists in his mind to suggest that he could spend a larger sum solely on British Energy and solely in the circumstances that he has so far outlined to the House and the Committee? If the money is not for BNFL, will it go to Nirex for underground storage? Does he fear that there might be a massive hole in British Energy's accounts and that it is in a similar position to that of Enron? What can be the justification for a provision that lifts the ceiling on an already very substantial amount to an even greater figure? In fact, the Bill lifts it to an unlimited figure.

The Minister might merely be ensuring that he has got all the elbow room that he possibly needs, but if £3.5 billion or £10 billion is not sufficient, what possible number can he have in mind? What sort of project can he have even in his most extreme fantasies on which he could spend so much money? If he wants more than the £3.5 billion that the amendment concedes that he might be given, surely he is obliged to say what on earth it is for.

I should like to draw attention to another aspect of the amendment: the condition that

detailing the scale of expenditure and his plans for the future. We had it in mind to draft amendments that referred specifically to the National Audit Office or that would have established a specific regulatory regime. However, we received advice that that would not be appropriate in this context and we have accepted it.

Whatever level of spending the Minister is committed to—whether it is unlimited, as he wants, or whether it is £10 billion, as the Conservatives suggest in new clause 2, or £3.5 billion, as we suggest—there is an imperative for the Secretary of State to put in place strong regulatory

6 Feb 2003 : Column 510

and reporting procedures. I hope that the Committee will consider our amendment favourably. We shall put it to the vote if the Government do not accept it.

Mr. Blunt: It is a sad and shabby state of affairs when we have to dispense with consideration of clause 2 in order to discuss the House's primary responsibility of exercising its fiscal duty on behalf of the people whom we represent to place some limit on the Executive.

I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). Surely the Executive cannot come to Parliament and demand an unlimited amount of money for one company. They cannot expect Parliament to write them a blank cheque. That is wholly unreasonable. The amendment would grant them £3.5 billion to support BE. It is inconceivable that they should require such an amount. New clause 2 would establish a principle with a limit of £10 billion. It would also require the Government to return to Parliament if they had to spend more than £2.1 billion, which is the amount of the additional liability—for the back-end fuel—that the Government are taking on.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of why the Government cannot accept the amendment.

Mr. Wilson: I have not the slightest ambition to spend such large sums of money. The nub of the argument is again the flexibility to respond to all circumstances. We have always said—I challenge anyone to dissent—

Mr. Djanogly rose—

Mr. Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman know from what he is going to dissent?

Mr. Djanogly: Yes.

Mr. Wilson: He should hang on and I shall give him something from which to dissent. We have always said that we cannot walk away from the liabilities. I challenge anyone to contradict that. If, despite all that we are doing and all the eventualities that we are covering, BE failed, and assuming that no private company stepped in to take over a station and its liabilities, the Government would have to act to ensure that the liabilities were tackled cleanly and safely. If no one can dissent from that, they cannot put a figure on the Government's response in a worst-case scenario, which I do not envisage.

Mr. Blunt: In the circumstances that the Minister outlines, surely it would be proper for the Executive to come back to Parliament to seek more authority. The idea that the Government should have unlimited authority to spend unlimited money is outrageous.

Mr. Wilson: The option of returning to Parliament is not precluded. It is inevitable that, in the case of a catastrophic collapse, the matter would return to Parliament in many forms.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): A written answer.

Mr. Wilson: We have never dealt with the issue through a written answer. There have been statements,

6 Feb 2003 : Column 511

debates, oral questions and a Bill. The Government's handling has been transparent. At every stage, we have told hon. Members exactly what we are doing and the reasons for our actions.

Mr. Djanogly: The powers that the Bill grants the Government are much wider than our debate suggests. The measure could apply to other companies in the same sector as BE. For example, if BNFL were floated , could not the clause allow for its renationalisation?

Mr. Wilson: For reasons that the hon. Gentleman doubtless understands, no public Bill can deal with a single company. The measure is generic, but we are considering BE's circumstances.

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Sir Michael. The Minister said that this is a generic Bill that does not refer only to one company. However, from the long title of the Bill, it is clear that it refers only to British Energy. I have attempted to table generic amendments but was advised that they were not in order. I would be grateful for clarification on whether the Bill is generic or applies solely to British Energy.

The Second Deputy Chairman: That is not a matter for the Chair: it is more a matter for debate.

It being five o'clock, The Second Deputy Chairman, pursuant to Orders [29 October 2002 and 27 January 2003], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 158, Noes 295.

Division No. 84
[5:00 pm


Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Bacon, Richard
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Brady, Graham
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Malcolm
Burns, Simon
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Cameron, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cran, James (Beverley)
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Evans, Nigel
Ewing, Annabelle
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, rh John
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Mates, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paisley, Rev. Ian
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salmond, Alex
Sanders, Adrian
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Laurence Robertson and
Angela Watkinson


Ainger, Nick
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, hon. Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Drown, Ms Julia
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S.
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McWalter, Tony
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, rh Peter
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Morgan, Julie
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Jim Fitzpatrick and
Charlotte Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

6 Feb 2003 : Column 514

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

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