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Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I am new to the shadow energy portfolio, but precisely what is required to resolve the question of nuclear waste? Other countries appear to have resolved it. What do we wish to resolve? Is it a technical or scientific problem, or a political and economic one?

Damian Green: It is a bit of both, to be frank. We know that the technical problems have been solved by other countries and, logically, they can be solved here, because the geology is not that different. Clearly the problem is essentially political and my hon. Friend brings me to the point that I was going to make, one that was made also by the hon. Member for Amber Valley. There are reports that the Secretary of State has set her face against a new generation of nuclear stations, whatever happens. That is a point of view and not a disreputable one. Many hold it; I happen to disagree.

It seems to me that, if that is the view of one of the Ministers principally responsible for this area of policy, she might as well share it with the rest of us. If that is to be the Government's policy, all this debate is a waste of time. We can carry on discussing what would then be a very acute problem, which is how we are to increase the amount of other renewable sources to meet our commitments.

The other problem staring us fairly starkly in the face is that, at the current rate of progress, we will not meet our commitments using renewable energy and the Government will have to take a decision on that.

Norman Baker: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves nuclear power, may I ask him about the economics? In the late 1980s, his Government privatised electricity and it became apparent that nuclear energy was hopelessly uneconomic and that the private sector would not sustain it. Does he think that, if there were a new generation of nuclear stations, it should occur only if the private sector were prepared to take the risk or should the Government underwrite it?

Damian Green: The temptation to make future party policy from the Back Benches is almost irresistible, but I will resist it in the presence of the new shadow
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Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I dare say that, if the hon. Gentleman asks my right hon. Friend that question later, my right hon. Friend will take the sensible view that he has been in post for about three days and cannot be expected to make new policy.

The underlying point by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about the long-term expense is valid, but whether renewable sources are economic is also a moot point. Whichever way we go, it seems likely that some level of subsidy, or of market distortion that creates a subsidy, will be required, as it is now. The idea that the economic problem is purely for the nuclear industry is simply not true. It is true for all non-traditional forms of energy generation at the moment.

The only conclusion that one can draw is that we have had various learned committees sitting in various parts of this particular jungle for a long time, which, conveniently, have not reported before the general election. But the evidence gathering has been done and it is a matter of urgency that we get on with making a decision as fast as possible.

The other environmental issue on which I want to touch is relevant to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. The new integrated agency is meant to produce

Those are the Secretary of State's own words, and who could argue with them? The problem is that that is not what is happening in too many parts of our countryside.

My constituency is one of the areas on which the Deputy Prime Minister's vision of so-called sustainable communities is being foisted and the purely environmental effects—before we get into the social strains on public services—include the disappearance of green fields, increasing pressure on water supplies and sewage disposal, and increasing pressure to put buildings on the flood plain, none of which could be regarded as sustainable in any normal use of the word.

The root of this environmental vandalism, which will render irrelevant any good work by the new agency in areas such as mine, is the Government's attitude to house building as set out in the Barker review. The claim is that we need more house building and that the Government have accepted the Barker analysis that there is a long-term undersupply of housing. All the evidence points against that analysis. The average number of people per household continues to fall and the average space that people have in their homes is increasing. Overcrowding is declining and there are more homes than households. There is a surplus of some 670,000 houses in this country. It seems perverse to say that the answer is to build more and more houses when the thick end of 750,000 houses is empty. It appears obvious that demand factors, not the supply of housing, cause the stresses and strains on house prices. Trying to build our way out of the so-called housing crisis in the south-east of England will not solve the crisis but create—and is creating—a new environmental crisis. Any good work that might be done by the new agency—I wish it and the Ministers who will support it all the best—will be outweighed by other Government policies that are higher in the hierarchy of importance and cause great damage.
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A major increase in house building will cause more greenhouse gas emissions, more noise and pollution associated with traffic growth, threats to wildlife and the possibility of greater flood risk and environmental damage through new water resources. I feel especially strongly about that because my constituency is in the forefront of suffering such environmental damage and I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State's explanation for why all that is necessary.

The third issue that I wish to raise is for another day but, being realistic, I suspect that I will not catch the Speaker's eye then. The identity cards Bill is to be reintroduced. It was a bad Bill in the previous Session and it is a bad Bill now. It will impose huge costs on individuals and taxpayers, restrict personal freedom and prove ineffective in the fight against terrorism and benefit fraud. The more arguments I hear from the Home Secretary, the worse they get. People have said that we are heading towards an Orwellian society. Orwell should not be our guiding text; if the scheme is ever adopted, it should be Kafka because people's identities will disappear. Anyone who has ever had to deal with problems related to the Child Support Agency's computers or any of the tax credit systems knows that they cannot cope. The proposed system will put huge amounts of sensitive personal information on to a Government computer, affecting everyone in this country.

John Bercow: The Government have consistently shifted their ground on the arguments for identity cards. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions took the biscuit when he said that their introduction would enable us to assert our sense of belonging? I have met many people in the Buckingham constituency in the past eight years who feel deprived of a sense of belonging, but no one has yet come up to me and said, "Mr. Bercow, I don't know who I am and I can't assert my sense of belonging because I have not yet been provided with my compulsory ID card by a Labour Government."

Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes an especially powerful point. Few are as eloquent as he in expressing any point of view, but I may be able to trump him by quoting the Prime Minister. In 1995, the Prime Minister told the Labour party conference:

he was wrong there—

I agree with that. The only point with which I take issue is the Prime Minister's comment about wasting hundreds of millions of pounds. Now he proposes to waste up to £10 billion on a system that is meant to protect us against terrorism but will not be operative until 2012 at the earliest. There is no argument for the Government's ID card scheme and I hope that hon. Members reject it.

Like all Queen's Speeches, this one is a mixture of the good, the bad and the irrelevant. There is no theme to it and no obvious vision of society. That should trouble thoughtful Labour Members. Above all, there is too
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much in the Queen's Speech. Parliament will not be able to scrutinise the proposals properly and bad law will emerge at the end. That should be a matter of genuine regret for Members of all parties.

2.39 pm

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