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Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman referred to the Government's White Paper and their position on nuclear power. Will he tell us his party's position on the future of nuclear power?

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for the invitation. I shall not trespass too long on the time of the House, even though the subject of energy is vast and all-consuming. I hope that we will have more time to debate it in the House. Briefly, in the same way as we should find a mechanism to price the atmospheric pollution caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we should price the future pollution that will be associated with nuclear production. It is not unreasonable to expect new designs of nuclear power stations to allow an estimate of the cost of dealing with the fuel that will come out of those power stations, and the final cost of decommissioning them. Then one can impose an environmental charge against those power stations, in accordance with their expected lifespan.

On top of that cash stream, which in the United States has been set at 0.1 cent for the past couple of decades, which has produced the money that is now paying for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel in the US, some form of insurance premium could also be charged in case those calculations turned out to be hopelessly wrong, as was the case with the first generation of nuclear power stations, which turned out to be vastly more expensive to clean up than anyone ever anticipated. That would also produce the funds to deal with the problem that we face now—the problem of the environmental pollution created by radioactivity. The Government cannot escape their responsibilities in that regard.

There is a way for those costs to be priced in, and if that is done for each design of nuclear power station, and if the costs associated with carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are also priced in as far as possible, investors will be able to decide whether to invest in wind farms, gas-fired electricity stations or clean coal technology. That is the way forward. It provides investors with a framework in which to make decisions and will then allow the market to operate. It will also be possible to price in factors such as security of supply. As soon as it becomes clear that the supply is under threat, the price of electricity will be almost infinite. People will pay an enormous amount if they think they will be denied supplies of electricity. That is a commodity for which an effective market can work. The challenge facing us and the Government is to create the framework that will enable that market to function and to produce clean, cheap electricity on which we can all rely.

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3.17 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) for making one or two points on which I hope to expand. I shall confine my remarks to the security aspects of the London underground, with particular reference to the exercise that took place about 10 days ago.

I shall pose a number of questions. I apologise in advance to the Minister if that causes him confusion. I realise that most of the questions could be answered by various Ministers—the Home Secretary, the Minister with responsibility for the Cabinet Office, the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire, or the Secretary of State for Transport. Who knows who will answer the questions? The Government do not have one central point to which to address questions relating to homeland security. If they did, perhaps some of my questions might receive a proper and coherent answer.

Almost 10 years ago, there was a sarin attack on the Tokyo underground. I do not need to remind the House of its effect. Since then, every terrorist group worth its salt has promised a similar attack somewhere in the world. Even before 11 September, there was the threat of an attack on the British underground. Most recently, a home-grown bunch of terrorists told us that that would happen. We had a warning from the head of MI5, as well as a warning about suicide bombers from one of the Metropolitan police's most senior officers.

Despite all those events, it has taken more than two years since 11 September for such an emergency to be practised in any realistic way. While I am grateful that there has been a practical exercise rather than a table-top, procedural, telephone or computer exercise, my first question to the Minister is: why has it taken so long? Where is the energy and the determination to protect not only our underground travellers, but the people of London? Where is the drive to ensure that the threat is being taken seriously?

For instance, why was the exercise planned and conducted on a Sunday, when there was no traffic and few people, few trains were running and it was easy to close the affected part of the underground system? I understand the points made about the financial implications for the City, but why was the scenario practised in such an easy way? Two thirds of the problem relates to other traffic and congestion, but that element did not arise. Why were the emergency services in position before the exercise? Why were the police and the fire and ambulance services in place? Why was the civil contingencies reaction force not present? Why were the armed forces not involved?

Why was the whole exercise so mechanistic and procedural, two years after 11 September and almost 10 years after the Tokyo attacks? It was good to see policemen, firemen and others donning those ghastly and uncomfortable suits and masks and getting down into the underground, but it was clear to me, as it would have been to the Minister if he had been present, that they were wholly unfamiliar with what they were doing. I could have understood that unfamiliarity if the exercise had been conducted in the weeks following 11 September, but I could not do so two years afterwards.

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When will such an emergency be practised outside London? When will such problems be physically rehearsed on other rail networks and in other tunnels? When will we next see such an exercise in London? More to the point, when will it be practised at a realistic time of day and with all the associated problems? That prompts the question of why so little account was taken of what happened on 28 August. Why were not the lessons carried forward immediately, clearly and with the energy and impetus that I would have expected? Surely, every sort of chance disaster, if that is the right phrase, must be used to teach lessons. The lessons must be implemented quickly and effectively; otherwise we will not be bothering or taking the matter seriously.

I have already asked about the next practical exercise—in the armed forces, it would be called a field training exercise—and asked when one is next planned for London, but answer comes there none. When will the emergency services be given a run in proper conditions, so that they can improve their reactions and so that London and the rest of the country get a proper crack of the whip? There is little doubt that such an emergency is coming. People far more knowledgeable than me have already warned that that is the case.

Some very fine words about the exercise were broadcast by the Liberal party. It was highly critical and made some suggestions and observations. Yet as far as I could see, not a single Liberal spokesperson or Member of Parliament was present. It is interesting that the Liberal Benches are so empty today. I say to the Liberal party that if it wants to comment, it should put its money where its mouth is by getting on the ground and seeing what the problems are.

In summary, valuable lessons were learned a couple of weekends ago that may help with the London underground if and when an emergency arises. However, I say to the Minister that if what happened in Tokyo happens in London, the Government will never be forgiven, and any of us with half a conscience will never forgive ourselves. I urge him to act and to do so in a realistic rather than a wholly unrealistic manner.

3.24 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate.

Like other hon. Members, I wish to focus on electricity supply and the London underground. We understood from the Minister that evacuation procedures were carried out according to standard arrangements during recent events. That may well have been the case, but, if so, one wonders why it took up to 90 minutes to evacuate some people. He also said that there was no room for complacency. I think that we need to look back at some of the problems that arose during evacuation of the Central line in January to see whether the lessons have been applied.

For instance, problems arose in respect of emergency lighting on the train and mayday calls being broadcast on the intercom, which meant that passengers could hear them. There was a potential problem with regard to passengers descending an escalator into Chancery lane station while the emergency was under way. Problems also arose when passengers involved in the incident did

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not receive counselling. A large number of issues arose from the Chancery lane incident, and I should like some reassurances that they will be considered, that the lessons have been learned and that the evacuation following the recent interruption to power supply went smoothly.

Communications also need further investigation and were a significant problem at Chancery lane station. It appears they were also a problem in relation to the more recent incident. I understand that the National Grid Company knew that there was no terrorist cause and immediately advised EDF to that effect, but that there was a delay in passing on the information. Presumably—the Minister may be able to clarify this point—the information would have had to go through Seeboard Powerlink before it arrived on the desk of London Underground Ltd. If the need for different organisations to be contacted sequentially is a problem, it must be addressed.

Similarly, the issue of communications outside London Underground must also be addressed. That involves what commuters knew about the incident. Furthermore, after the incident, broadcasters were unable to provide much information about the reasons for the problems that commuters were experiencing. There was almost a communications blackout in terms of people travelling on the tube, and that issue must be looked at.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the back-up power supply. I shall not go into the history of Lots road, but the Minister must reassure us that commuters are not in a worse position now than they were previously with regard to a back-up power supply that could provide traction for the tube. I hope that the Minister can explain what consideration was given to a back-up power supply when the closure of Lots road was examined and why it was eventually decided not to pursue the option. I also hope that he can say whether it is intended to hold discussions involving the Government, Transport for London, the Mayor and the national grid about the potential need for such a supply.

If action is taken on the key issues—communications, ascertaining whether evacuation procedures for the London underground worked as effectively as they could, implementing the lessons from Chancery lane, conducting a review of back-up power supply arrangements—something positive will emerge from a disaster that affected hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

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