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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 May 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 10 June at Four o'clock.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Nuclear Industry

1. Anne Picking (East Lothian): What assessment she has made of the effects of the policies set out in the Energy White Paper on jobs in the nuclear industry in Scotland. [113323]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The White Paper sets out a framework for energy policy that will significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, with increased priority given to energy efficiency measures and to generation from renewable sources. The White Paper has no immediate implications for jobs in the nuclear industry in Scotland. Nuclear generation continues to play an important part in supplying the UK's energy needs.

Anne Picking : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but I wonder whether she will expand on what is meant by the word "immediate". Although the White Paper makes a laudable case for renewables, we have decimated the coal industry in Scotland, thereby wiping out an energy source, and we are in danger of wiping out another energy source that supplies 50 per cent. of electricity in Scotland. That will eventually have an impact on jobs and an effect on communities and workers. What does my hon. Friend have to say about that?

Mrs. McGuire: My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter on behalf of her constituents, particularly those who are employed at Torness, but may I just correct one inaccuracy? I know that she did not mean it, but it was not this Government who decimated the coal industry. Looking across the Chamber at the Conservative Benches, we can see who decimated the coal industry in Scotland and the UK. My hon. Friend is correct in that our renewable objectives are ambitious, but we also

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recognise that nuclear generation is still an important source of carbon-free electricity. However, at the moment, new nuclear build is commercially unattractive, and the disposal of nuclear wastes is obviously an important issue.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): The Minister must accept that this chaotic energy White Paper will regrettably lead to a run-down in employment at existing stations in Scotland and, in our view, to a mistaken delay in commissioning replacements, not least at Chapelcross, where some of my constituents are employed. When will her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earn her place at the Cabinet table and fight for new-build power stations on existing licensed sites in Scotland to give energy policy credibility there? Or is her right hon. Friend just bored with the subject?

Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman is very clever, isn't he? [Hon. Members: "He hides it well."] Yes, as my hon. Friends say, he hides it very well. My right hon. Friend is a strong advocate for all Scottish issues at the Cabinet table, and we certainly do not need to take lessons from Conservative Members about how to fight for Scotland, since they palpably never did. The reality is that, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, no one is asking for new nuclear build at the moment. The energy White Paper holds to the position as it is at the moment, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to be accurate about jobs, he should realise that decommissioning itself creates many jobs.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Regarding jobs, obviously, if we see the demise of nuclear power or new nuclear build, yes, we will support sustainables, but we will not meet our targets on CO2 emissions unless we include nuclear build in the policy. Will my hon. Friend push the facts in the White Paper, so that we have a discussion and debate on new nuclear build as soon as possible, as it is an important element for the nuclear industry and workers in Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire: I agree with my hon. Friend that, at the appropriate time, we ought to have a wide-ranging discussion on nuclear energy and whether or not nuclear power will be needed to support our energy supply industry in the United Kingdom. The energy White Paper is very clear about the fact that we will have to begin consultations as and when appropriate.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): If we are to meet the aspirations for CO2 emissions and renewables, rather than talking about new nuclear energy build, should we not be considering public investment in the infrastructure of the national grid to ensure that it is strengthened in those areas that can provide renewable energy and much-needed jobs?

Mrs. McGuire: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, that is already being looked at and is part of the wider discussion that arises from the energy White Paper, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman and his party will participate in that consultation.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): Given the vast subsidies that the Government have

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recently had to pay out to the failing nuclear industry, may I assure my hon. Friend that very many people in Scotland will welcome both the Government's commitment not to put any more money down that drain and their decision not to go ahead with any new nuclear power stations at this stage? Will she join me in welcoming the decision of the new partnership in Scotland, led by Labour, to aim for a 40 per cent. renewables target by 2020? Will she give the Government's commitment now to give their full backing to that ambitious but important target for increasing renewable energy, thereby providing many more jobs in the energy industry in Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire: My hon. Friend is correct that the new Labour-led partnership in Scotland has identified very clear targets, and as part of the development of the energy White Paper we were in constant discussion with the then Scottish Executive. This is a matter for the Scottish Executive within the overall framework of energy policy in the United Kingdom. I want to highlight one issue, however, in relation to British Energy. It was important for the Government to secure the supply element of British Energy and to support its restructuring, which was the reason why the Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 was given Royal Assent earlier this month.

White Fishing Industry

2. Ann Winterton (Congleton): If she will make a statement on the economic viability of the Scottish white fishing industry. [113324]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The Government are committed to helping secure a sustainable future for the Scottish fishing industry. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched a strategic review of the fishing industry in January. This study, which involves industry stakeholders, and with which I am personally involved, will consider all aspects of the fisheries sector and make recommendations to influence future decision making.

Ann Winterton : Commissioner Fischler has made it clear that the cod recovery programme could last between five and 10 years, by which time there will not be a Scottish white fish fleet, further devastating coastal communities both economically and socially. Can the Secretary of State say why the Commissioner is so confident of success, bearing in mind the fact that environmental conditions for cod are deteriorating in EU waters and that there is a continuing shortage of food in the British sector owing to industrial fishing?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Lady summed up, in her final clause, the issue regarding declining cod stocks. The important thing for the long-term future of the white fishing industry in Scotland that we have a sustainable and coherent strategy for the future, which secures the long-term supply of fishing stocks. That is the purpose of the Prime Minister's strategic review. The issue should have been addressed years ago, but it was ducked by the Administration whom the hon. Lady supported, and now we have to ensure sustainable long-term supplies of white fish. I have been involved in extensive

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discussions with the industry as recently as two weeks ago, and will continue to have those discussions. Scaremongering and populism, however, will not resolve the problems of the white fish industry.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the son of one of my constituents is a fisherman on Barra and is currently travelling through Europe with some other fishermen from Barra and Vatersay? What advice would she give to them if they happen to travel to Seville and meet up with some Spanish fishermen?

Mrs. Liddell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I hope that one of the first things that these fishermen from Vatersay and Barra would point out to their Spanish colleagues is the importance of the fishing industry to Scotland. I know that they will have many opportunities and that they will be great ambassadors for Scotland. The most recent dispatches have it that the fishermen from Vatersay have now reached Madrid and that the Vatersay Boys are turning the town over. On behalf of every Member of the House, we hope that all the 50,000 Scots who have travelled to Seville, fishermen or not, have a very good time. If I may echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I hope that the Celtic team bring back the UEFA cup and that the Vatersay Boys have a very good time convincing their Spanish colleagues—[Interruption.] The House will be able to tell how in touch Opposition Members are with the people of Scotland.

Angus Robertson (Moray): While wishing any Scottish sporting team success, may I say that it will be a surprise to people in fishing communities that the Government are making light of the crisis that they are going through at this time. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the European Union has had an underspend of more than Euro7 billion? Can she tell the House how much of the Euro7 billion-plus will come back to the UK, and how much in terms of extra resources will go to crisis-hit communities? How much extra, in terms of the extra resources that have been put on the table by the European Commission, is she fighting to secure in Cabinet?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman always gives just part of the story. I do not know whether he does so deliberately or whether he is merely ill-informed. The whole issue of fisheries support is on multi-year programmes. Until the multi-year programme is finished, it is impossible to comment on it. I should have thought that the election a couple of weeks ago would have taught the Scottish National party some lessons. Quite frankly, a party that lost eight seats—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Anne Begg.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I have just returned from Andalucia, which I visited with the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. Its fishing industry is suffering a downturn and many of its fishermen face the same problems as we do in north-east Scotland. I understand that the first meeting of the No. 10 strategy unit took place this morning. Will my right hon. Friend

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give us a progress report and tell us how the strategy will be worked out in the future and how that will help the Scottish white fish industry?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend takes a coherent and reasoned view of the difficulties facing the fishing industry and does not indulge in scaremongering, unlike Members of some other parties. Official-level contacts in relation to the Prime Minister's strategic review have begun. I met several of the representatives two weeks ago when I was in Brussels at the sea fish exposition and I know that the fishing industry greatly welcomes the review. It will take some time before we know the review's conclusions because considerable issues must be addressed. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, shares the view that the review represents the most coherent way ahead to recognise the scale of the problems. Hard decisions might have to be taken but at least we will then know how to secure a proper future for the fishing industry and the fish processing industry, which is so important in her constituency.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): The right hon. Lady is trying to imply that she is an active participant in discussions on the crisis. Her reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) did not make it entirely clear whether she was at this morning's meeting with the Prime Minister. Has she discussed the crisis in the fishing industry with the Prime Minister? Does she have any plans to meet the new Scottish fisheries Minister? Has she held discussions on the issue with the UK fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), in the past seven weeks?

Mrs. Liddell: Let me begin with the hon. Lady's last point. I discussed the situation of fisheries in Scotland in general with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary as recently as last Wednesday. I left the Prime Minister half an hour ago, and I have regular extensive discussions with the fisheries industry—as recently as two weeks ago at the sea fish exposition in Brussels. I recognise the difficulties faced by the white fish industry but we must remember that there are other fisheries in Scotland. For example, considerable action, some of which has been extremely hard, has been taken on the pelagic fleet and that sector of the industry is consequently showing considerable strength. The hon. Lady should not indulge in scaremongering. The issues are serious and must be dealt with seriously.

Mrs. Lait: I am sure that Scottish fishermen would not consider the situation in which they find themselves to be indicative of scaremongering. I am delighted to hear that the right hon. Lady has met the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Will she assure us that she has discussed the UK Government's proposals regarding Euro150 million compensation for the white fish industry? Struan Stevenson, the Conservative MEP who serves on the Fisheries Committee, has secured the European Parliament's agreement to set that sum aside as compensation for the industry.

Mrs. Liddell: The Scottish Executive have already set aside £50 million for transitional assistance for the white

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fish industry, and that is already working its way through the system. I shall hold early discussions with the Scottish fisheries Minister as soon as he or she is in place. On the point on funding for fisheries, the state aids regime is being analysed by the European Commission. No money can be paid out, as I am sure Mr. Struan Stevenson knows, until the Commission reaches a conclusion on state aids.

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