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House of Commons

Tuesday 7 June 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill

Order for Second Reading Read To be read a Second time on Tuesday 14 June.

Liverpool City Council (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Wednesday 15 June.

London Local Authorities (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Wednesday 15 June.

London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Tuesday 14 June.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Nuclear Power

1. Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): What responsibilities are devolved, and which reserved, in relation to any decision to commission and locate a new nuclear power station in Scotland. [1948]
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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): New power stations in Scotland require consent, under the Electricity Act 1989, from Scottish Executive Ministers. Nuclear energy and installations, including nuclear safety, security and safeguards, are reserved, subject to exceptions set out in the Scotland Act 1998.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Minister for that reply, but it does not make it entirely clear what the planning position is as regards nuclear power stations. The Minister will know that there is huge opposition to new nuclear power stations in Scotland and to nuclear dumps in Scotland. Will he give a cast-iron guarantee that the United Kingdom Government will not seek to impose a new nuclear power station on Scotland without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament using its planning powers?

Mr. Darling: The position is absolutely clear, and if the hon. Gentleman had given the matter even the slightest investigation, he would see that. At the end of the day, because the Scottish Executive would have to give planning permission, it is for them to decide whether a large nuclear power station should be built. The matter rests with them. It will be up to the Scottish Executive, and the Ministers in that are, of course, answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one thing that is fundamental to the people of Scotland is security of supply, and if they were asked a question about the future of nuclear power and whether there should be a station, they would say yes if that would ensure security of supply?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we maintain the security of supply of electricity in Scotland, as in the whole United Kingdom. Nuclear power has played an important part in generating electricity in Scotland in Torness in my hon. Friend's constituency. Of course, when we discuss future generation requirements, we need to consider all aspects of electricity generation. One of the problems with the nationalists is that they know very well what they are against but are not very clear what they are for.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): The Secretary of State has not made his answer clear. This is not just about planning permission; it is about energy policy. He must be well aware that his Government are quite likely to propose the building of new nuclear power stations generally, while many Members of the Scottish Executive have publicly declared their opposition to nuclear power. Surely the Secretary of State must realise that this is not just a matter of planning permission but of serious constitutional difficulty. How does he propose to resolve it?

Mr. Darling: First, I welcome the hon. Lady's appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) did not last more than a few days before he was discarded by the leader of the Conservative party; in fact, he must be the only person nominated as shadow Secretary of State never even to make it to the first Question Time, let alone do anything else.
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In relation to the hon. Lady's question, the position is very clearly set out in the Electricity Act 1989 and the Scotland Act 1998. As I said in my earlier answer, new nuclear power stations in Scotland require consent from the Scottish Executive under the Electricity Act 1989; nothing could be clearer than that.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we really need in this country is an intelligent, mature national debate on how we deliver on our future energy requirement in the light of global warming? Does he, like me, long for the day when the Scottish nationalists, in particular, can deliver on showing a bit of maturity?

Mr. Darling: Most of us have long given up on my hon. Friend's last point. On his substantive point, yes, there is a big debate to be had, not only in Scotland but in the whole United Kingdom, about electricity supply. We all know that the difficulty with nuclear power stations is the disposal of waste, which is a big question that needs to be answered. Equally, however, we are aware that although many people are signed up to the proposition of more and more renewable energy, the fact is that whenever sites are proposed there are substantial objections, sometimes for understandable reasons, and those need to be resolved as well.

The position of all the Opposition parties at the moment, one way or the other, seems to be that something needs to be done, whether or not they are against any possible solution. As a country, we need to face up to the fact that we will need to replace our energy generation over the next few years, we need to have a sensible debate about the pros and cons of each type of electricity generation, and then we need to make decisions. The difference between us and them, I suppose, is that we are in a position in which we have to make decisions, whereas they are unlikely to be in that position for some considerable time.


2. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): If he will make a statement on the performance of the Scottish economy by comparison with the English economy. [1949]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): Both the Scottish and English economies continue to benefit from the stability delivered by the Government. We are currently benefiting from the longest period of sustained low inflation since the 1960s. Interest rates remain low, and strong labour market policies have boosted employment across the UK.

Andrew Selous: What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect on Scottish business of higher business rates north of the border? Does he think that those might have contributed in any way to the fact that Scotland's gross domestic product grew by more than 1 per cent. less last year than the United Kingdom's as a whole?

Mr. Darling: The Scottish economy is growing well. The Scottish Executive has taken a number of steps to reduce the impact of business rates to make sure that
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they protect businesses as far as possible. I remind the hon. Gentleman—I am not sure how detailed his studies of the Scottish economy are—that all current business surveys are optimistic that Scotland's economic growth will continue and that Scotland has a higher employment rate than any other European Union country bar Denmark, and higher than in England. That shows that the Scottish economy is strong. Of course, other measures need to be taken to continue that growth, both to support business as well as more general steps, but I assure him that, should he care to come to Scotland, he will see a picture in many cases of great optimism, which stands in stark contrast to the position 10 or 15 years ago when his party was in government.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the growth of research and development in life sciences and biochemicals is crucial to the Scottish economy generally and to my constituency in particular? Can he give assurances that the Government will continue to support the pioneering work being done by, for example, Dundee university, whose principal I will meet later this week?

Mr. Darling: Let me congratulate my hon. Friend on winning his seat in Dundee, West. I am sure that he will be a worthy successor to Ernie Ross, whom many on this side of the House, and in all parts of the House, will remember with great affection. In relation to research and development, he is right: Dundee is an excellent example of substantial investment and research in the new biosciences in universities and other institutions. That has been good for the universities, which have a worldwide reputation, and has seen companies built up on the back of that research and beginning to exploit the fruits of it. Dundee university and others in Tayside have been extremely active in promoting that, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is drawing the House's attention to that.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the reasons why we have had three quarterly downturns in growth in Scotland since 1997 has been the loss of more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs? What has he done as Secretary of State—or what has his deputy done—to point out our vital jobs, such as those at Fergusons in Port Glasgow, and to explain to the Liberal-Labour Ministers in the Scottish Executive that fisheries protection vessels are allocated elsewhere in Europe as grace ships, which would allow the award of a vital contract to a suitable Scottish yard, such as Fergusons?

Mr. Darling: The commissioning of fishery protection vessels is a matter for the Scottish Executive, as the hon. Gentleman knows. If there is any discussion as to what classification they ought to have, that is a matter for the Scottish Executive to pursue with the European Commission.

In relation to employment generally, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not draw attention to the fact that his constituency has seen a dramatic reduction in unemployment since 1997. Nor did he draw the House's attention to the fact that the Scottish economy has grown strongly since 1997, and as I said a few moments ago, the employment rate in Scotland is higher
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than in most other parts of Europe. I remind him that were we to pursue his policies of tearing Scotland away   from the rest of the United Kingdom, they would undoubtedly cause large-scale unemployment in Scotland.

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