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: I share some of the hon. Gentleman's views on the current American Administration's environment policy, but I think he is being unnecessarily partisan. I distinctly remember that the Clinton
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Administration made absolutely no effort to push Kyoto through in America. It has been a problem for successive American federal Governments.
Norman Baker: I certainly accept the argument that the Clinton Administration did not do enoughalthough they did indicate a willingness to sign up to Kyoto, on which Bush reneged as soon as he came to power. There may have been no substantive difference, in terms of delivery, but there has been a difference in tone. The American Administration need to be moved forward further than they have moved so far.
John Bercow : Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) just said, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a more cogent criticism of successive US Administrations might relate to trade policy? Does he agree that it is both morally wrong and economically damaging for the United States, while preaching free enterprise, to practise protectionism by giving a subsidy of between $3 billion and $4 billion a year to 25,000 relatively well-off and politically influentialand inefficientcotton producers, thus massively damaging Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, which depend on cotton for 30 to 40 per cent. of their export earnings?
Norman Baker: That is true. I confess it readily. But I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman back, and he has made a fair point. It is tangential to the point I am making, but it is relevant to the need for a consistent approach to a range of issues on the part of the United States. The European Union, too, is far from blameless when it comes to trade policy.
Nuclear power, apparently, is an issue that will occupy us over the next 12 months or so. Some Liberal Democrats tried to interest the House and the wider public in the issue during the 12 months preceding the election. As the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) suggested, it might have been more honest for us to have the debate at that point. There are now a number of policies, but the Liberal Democrat policy is absolutely clear: nuclear power has no role in the future energy supply of this country, for a couple of very sound reasons.
First, there is no solution to the problem of nuclear waste, which covers an enormous acreage. There is now enough nuclear waste to fill five Albert halls, and it is increasing all the time. Apparently, the DTI wants to import some to try and please the Treasury by making the nuclear bills look smaller. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has not yet even reported on what should happen to the waste, but we are going to have a debate on nuclear power.
The other reason is financial. Nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic. We were told in the 1950s that it was too cheap to meter; we have just signed off an
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energy bill of £48 billion£800 per man, woman and child in the countryto deal with the mess that we already have, let alone anything else. Time and again, the nuclear industry has said, "This is a new generation: it will be all right." Time and again, it has turned out to be horribly expensive. No private sector company will build nuclear power stations, so the only option is for the taxpayer to pay. The Liberal Democrats will not countenance that.
We have two policies from the Government. At least we have two from them; we have none from the Conservatives. Over the years, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has wisely opposed a further increase in nuclear power generation. Othersincluding the Prime Minister and perhaps the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, judging by his comments in the Financial Times the other dayapparently think that nuclear power may have a role. Let me put to the Secretary of State a point that I made earlier in an intervention. If we have nuclear power, the cost will be so enormous that the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill. That will choke off funds for renewables and energy efficiency, which are far more desirable for the delivery of our energy mix. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be hoodwinked by people in his Department, many of whom seem to be very keen on nuclear power without much basis for being so.
Michael Jack : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, with the advent of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, a way will be found of dealing with the materials already in existence at Sellafield? Does he discount the Finnish experience of a deep but recoverable repository, which is currently in operation? Does that not demonstrate that there can be safe and workable solutions to the problem of long-term disposal of nuclear waste?
Norman Baker: I do not accept that there are necessarily any long-term solutions. What I do accept is the Brundtland principle that the environment we leave to future generations should be in as good a condition, or a better condition, than the environment we inherited. If we are to build up stocks of nuclear waste which, in some instances, will last for thousands of years, that test will clearly not be met. For 10 years, Nirex has been trying to find a repository, or some other way of dealing with nuclear waste. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) ruled out one possible answer when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, and no progress has been made in the 10 years since then. I suggest that if it were that easy to find a solution, one would have been found by now.
That is something of a side issue, but I shall try to deal with it. [Hon. Members: "It is not a side issue."] It is, and I shall explain why. For many years, we have been spending millions of pounds on nuclear fusion. I am reminded of the boffins who used to appear "The Avengers", appropriating public money without producing much of a return. I do not rule out a role for nuclear fusion at some distant date, but I am very concerned about our continuing to plough large
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amounts of money into it when the money could be spent on energy efficiency and renewables, which are far more effective. That represents another diversion of public funds from something that is certain to deliver to something that may never deliver.
Let us consider some of the alternatives. Energy efficiency is a poor relation of energy policy in this countrypartly, I suspect, because responsibilities have been split between the DTI and DEFRA. DEFRA has been trying to stop the production of energy, while the DTI has been happy to produce as much as the market wants in a gung-ho way. That division of departmental responsibilities is unhelpful, and I think it is one of the reasons why energy efficiency has not been given the attention that it deserves.
It is perfectly possible to cut energy consumption by 1 per cent. per year over the next 30 years without doing any damage to industry. According to evidence from BP and other companies, investing in energy efficiency means ending up with bigger bottom-line profits. I commend the work of the Carbon Trust, which demonstrated how much better off business is when it cuts energy consumption, with no effect on productivity. Energy efficiency is a win-win process, and more should be done on that front.
We also need to do more about renewables. The Minister will be aware of this morning's report from the Sustainable Development Commission, which drew attention to the need for further action on wind power. As I said earlier, the Conservatives initiated a debate attacking wind power, which was very unfortunate. Wind power is not, of course, the only renewable energy source; we need a mix including tidal power, wave power and micro-generation. It is, however, an important element, and is first in line when it comes to what can be achieved quickly.
Damian Green: While he is extolling the virtues of wind power, would the hon. Gentleman care to list the number of wind power schemes that local Liberal Democrats have opposed over the years? Will he commit himself to ensuring that, for as long as he is the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, they will stop opposing such schemes every time they see some political advantage in doing so?
Norman Baker: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is giving a commitment that no Conservative council will follow a particular line and that Conservative Front Benchers will determine the actions of every council up and down the country. Our position is perfectly plain. We have a presumption in favour of wind power, both onshore and offshore, but of course not every site is appropriate. Of course, there are areas where wind[Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, if he is in favour of nuclear power, that every nuclear power station, wherever it is proposed it be built, should be built, or that every site suggested for nuclear waste is appropriate for nuclear waste. We look at the matter on a case-by-case basis. If he wants to know Conservative policy, let me refer him to the comments of his former colleague, Tim Eggar, when Minister for Energy under the last Tory Government, who said:
As well as looking at renewable energy, of which there are many variations, we need to look at clean coal technology and to identify its potential benefits. By retrofitting our power stations, it is possible to cut carbon emissions by up to 12 or 15 per cent. That will not be without a cost but it should not be forgotten that we can clean up coal to some extent. New coal-fired power stations are coming on stream in China and everywhere else. One of the best things we can do is develop technology to reduce carbon emissions from those sources. If we do that, that will contribute far more to tackling climate change than a couple of windmills here and there. We should not, therefore, ignore the role of coal globally and, for indigenous reasons, in this country. There is the potential to clean up coal and that possibility should not be neglected.
I suggest that the Government look seriouslyI am sure that they are doing soat carbon sequestration. The Minister will know that some of the pressure groups are unhappy about that because they think that it encourages indefinite reliance on fossil fuels, but, given the current position, it would be irresponsible not to consider it. I would welcome a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later to confirm the Government's position on that, what steps they are taking to invest in carbon sequestration and what potential they see for oceanic sequestration.
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