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Renewable Energy

3. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on the effect of UK renewable energy policy on Scotland. [221053]

5. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the development of sources of renewable energy appropriate to Scotland. [221055]
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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): Scotland Office Ministers and officials are in regular contact with the Scottish Executive and the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to a wide range of energy-related matters.

Miss McIntosh: The Secretary of State will be aware that the National Audit Office report concluded that the policy he is pursuing will lead to a 5 per cent. increase in electricity prices and a £1 billion additional cost to taxpayers and consumers. Also, it will cost the tourism industry £80 billion a year in fewer tourist visits and fewer tourist-related jobs. Does he not realise that this is not a very clever policy at all?

Mr. Darling: I am not sure which aspect of our policy the hon. Lady is attempting to refer to, but she might be speaking in relation to renewables. To be fair to her, she has shown that she is unremittingly hostile to the development of renewable energy. I do not agree with her on that, because I believe that, for environmental reasons, and for other reasons as well, we ought to be increasing the amount of energy we generate from renewable sources.

The position of the Conservatives seems nonsensical: they are in favour of getting alternatives, but they are against anything that might offer a practical way of providing them. That energy policy does not add up. If we pursued the line that the hon. Lady advocates, sooner or later we would find that there was a shortfall in the generation of electricity. That cannot be good for anyone in this country.

Mr. Tynan: My right hon. Friend will be aware that renewable energy is benefiting enormously from the renewables obligation. In Scotland, I understand that there have been about 270 applications for onshore wind farms, but many groups are deeply concerned that the cheap option has been adopted by companies. They think that onshore wind farms are the very cheap option, to the detriment of other renewables technologies. Does he agree that that is the case? If so, should we not change the conditions of the renewables obligation to ensure that we encourage as much diversity as possible in renewables technology?

Mr. Darling: First, many more applications are lodged than are ever likely to be granted, but that is perhaps not surprising due to the nature of the planning process. I agree with my hon. Friend—I have said this before—that there should be a diverse supply of electricity generation. However, the fact is that onshore wind generation technology and know-how are far more advanced than those involved with, for example, wave power generation. I also agree that we need to examine the possibilities of wave power. Indeed, work is being done in different parts of Scotland, particularly in the north, in relation to that, because the more diverse the energy supply, the better.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Why has the Secretary of State totally failed to establish fair charging for access to the electricity grid in Scotland? Will he confirm that under Ofgem's latest proposals, Scottish generators will have to pay half the connection charges for the grid across the United Kingdom—an
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average of six times per unit more than their English counterparts? How on earth are we going to access the huge renewables potential of Scotland, particularly offshore, if we have a Secretary of State who totally fails to protect Scotland from such unfair, discriminatory, anti-Scottish charging?

Mr. Darling: Yet again, the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Of course, he misses out the fact that, under the new arrangements, Scottish generators will not have to pay the interconnector charges, which they have to pay at the moment when transmitting electricity from Scotland to England. That will benefit generators. On top of that, he fails to mention that the DTI last week announced that it intends to use its powers to cap charges in relation to generation on the islands and to consult on charges in relation to generation onshore. Before he opens his mouth on these matters, he should perhaps look at the whole picture rather than, as usual, just the partial one.

David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I recognise the importance of new renewables—everyone in the House will support the programme for renewables, whether in relation to wind energy or hydro—but we must also recognise the role that coal and nuclear power play in the Scottish economy. Surely it would be wrong to throw out everything. Will my right hon. Friend impress it on the DTI that we need an energy debate to discuss the whole issue of what we require in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Darling: When we have discussed these matters at Scottish questions, I have said that it is important that we have diverse sources of electricity generation. Scotland's nuclear power is capable of generating electricity for at least another 20 years, and it will continue to make a significant contribution. My hon. Friend mentions the coal industry. That, too, has a contribution to make.

We need a sensible, grown-up debate about these things, which has not always happened in the past, but turning our minds from one source of generation and ruling it out on principle—whether nuclear in the case of the nationalists or wind power in the case of the Conservatives—would sell Scotland short. We need to ensure that we have secure energy supplies for decades to come, and we need a sensible debate on how to achieve that.


4. Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): What discussions he has had with the Department for Work and Pensions on the impact of the breaking of the earnings link to pensions on pensioners in Scotland. [221054]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I discuss a wide range of issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. When in opposition, Labour condemned the breaking of the earnings link. When in power, it has refused to reverse that, extended means-testing and
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condemned one in five Scots pensioners to live in poverty. Even at this late stage, will he put pressure on the Chancellor to provide in his Budget statement tomorrow a citizen's pension that will end means-testing and lift Scots pensioners out of poverty?

Mr. Darling: May I say to the hon. Gentleman, in the nicest possible way, that he clearly does not understand that restoring the earnings links would not help the poorest pensioners in this country? The reason we introduced the pension credit and the minimum income guarantee is that half the additional money—the £10 billion more that we have spent on pensions—has gone to the poorest pensioners in this country. That is why we have been able to lift pensioners in Scotland out of poverty. The fact is that restoring the earnings link would be a cheaper policy to pursue, but it would be the wrong policy, as it does not help the poorest pensioners in this country.

The hon. Gentleman might want to reflect on the fact that, because of the pension credit, 270,000 households with pensioners in Scotland are getting, on average, more than £40 a week because of the pension credit. That would go under the nationalists. He mentioned the nationalist policy, which would cost some £3 billion over five years—money that they have not got. The nationalists' claim that they would help Scots pensioners is therefore a complete and utter fraud.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should congratulate the Department for Work and Pensions on the way in which it has restored pensioners to the land of the living? A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies made it clear that pensioners, as a group, are no more liable to be poor than any other group. That is because we have introduced a whole range of policies that have allowed us to reflect pensioners' contribution in the past and look after them in the future.

Mr. Darling: The basic problem in this country is that, because so many people rely only on the basic state pension, and because the issue is clearly contribution-related, many people were reaching retirement without enough money to live on. That is why we introduced the minimum income guarantee and then the pension credit, which are designed to help two groups of pensioners in particular: people who have not been able to save enough for their retirement are given substantially more money than they would ever have got under an earnings link proposal; and the pension credit rewards savings rather than penalising them as the old social security system used to do. That is on top of the winter fuel payment, which the Tories wanted to abolish a few years ago, free television licences, free eye tests and other measures that we are taking to help pensioners. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is no doubt that, as a result of what we have done in the past eight years, pensioners are better off. Obviously, we want to do more, but pensioners are certainly better off than they would ever have been had we followed either the Conservative or nationalist policies.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): Ten years ago, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, said that the aim of
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his pensions policy was to remove the stigma of means-testing for ever. Would the Secretary of State like to give the House a report on progress towards that aim in Scotland?

Mr. Darling: What I have said on many occasions is that if we want to deal with the problem of pensioner poverty—

Mr. Duncan: The stigma.

Mr. Darling: Well, the hon. Gentleman says that there is a stigma. The stigma is to leave pensioners poor. The stigma is pensioner poverty. In the 18 years that the Conservative party was in power, more and more pensioners fell into poverty. I will therefore make no apology whatever for introducing policies designed to help the poorest pensioners, which is what the pension credit does. He might want to reflect on the fact that the policies to which the Conservative party is now wedded—restoring the earnings link, but only for four years, after which that policy stops—would not help the poorest pensioners and would do absolutely nothing to get more pensioners out of poverty.

Mr. Duncan: The Secretary of State's phoney bluster will do nothing to hide the fact that the Government have clearly failed on this issue. The simple fact is that 50 per cent. more pensioners are subject to means-testing in Scotland and must go cap in hand to the Chancellor for the stigma to which the Prime Minister referred 10 years ago. Is not a restoration of the earnings link and a substantial cut in council tax required, which would give a fair deal to Scotland's pensioners?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman should know, although perhaps he does not, that the Tories' present policy—which, incidentally, was rubbished by their work and pensions spokesmen for years—favours restoring the earnings link for the next Parliament only. Then it will stop: in other words, the problems will start to build up again. The Tories have done that because they know that if they committed themselves to restoring the earnings link in perpetuity, they would have an even bigger spending problem than they have now.

The hon. Gentleman should reflect on this: 3,800 pensioners in his constituency benefit from pension credit, with a local average award of £41.34 per week. Under his system, they would not receive that money.


The Advocate-General for Scotland was asked—

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