Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is hinting at the question that I   want to ask him. For all the eight-plus years in which   I have been here, we have had debates about energy provision and how we manage to generate it. We have argued about nuclear and renewables, but the reality is that this is about meeting our own demands as best we can. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the big issue is whether we aim to be as self-sufficient as possible and, in particular, how we deal with the issue of imported gas, which arose earlier this month?

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is no cross-party difference in trying to identify the seriousness of the issue.

The hon. Gentleman's comments take me conveniently to the question of what alternatives now exist to the traditional patterns of energy supply that this country has enjoyed for decades. The fact is—this is another compelling reason for engaging seriously in this review—that science is changing very fast indeed. Instead of looking at renewables as a marginal and slightly quirky additional supply to our energy needs, we
17 Jan 2006 : Column 779
see that they can increasingly play a significant part in the energy mix that any country should set for itself. Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr.   Cameron) and I changed our personal domestic electricity supplies to eco-friendly sources. I am now getting my London electricity from Scottish hydro; my hon. Friend is getting his from a mixture of eco-friendly sources. That shows that science, technology, consumer power and the free choice that we can exercise can dramatically shape the energy market in which we work.

Other technologies are developing. I used to be in the oil business, which was always seen as the demon of the   environment, but when we consider carbon recapture and Labour Members, in particular, consider coal, we can see that there are prospects for consuming clean coal. Fossil fuels may enjoy a longer lease of life with which we can happily co-exist than we would ever have expected 10 years ago. Science is changing dramatically. Technological progress in the transfer of emissions and the way in which the bad elements of energy consumption can be captured and stored are changing the whole nature of the debate.

One cannot but ask whether nuclear power has a role in all this. Let me come clean. From about the age of 12, I have had an instinctive hostility to nuclear power. I   treat it with profound suspicion. In looking at nuclear technology, the wise course is to apply the precautionary principle and say that the onus is on those who say that nuclear power should be used to prove that it can overcome our doubts and fears, predominantly about its safety. The hon. Member for Lewes made some good arguments, which will have to go into the review, about the doubts that we may have about nuclear power. The first question is whether the economics work. Does the   fact that it is expensive to create, almost cost-free to run, and then so expensive to decommission mean that in a private market someone will make the investment, run it, and then skedaddle leaving someone else to pick up the pieces?

That is a legitimate fear, which introduces another element into the debate, particularly in relation to security for the whole country—whether there should be an element of state involvement in the nuclear sector if the private sector cannot, as the hon. Member for Lewes clearly thinks, ever seriously invest in nuclear energy in the long term.

There are debates and doubts about the dangers of nuclear waste. A predominant fear is that great boxes of   waste are left glowing for thousands of years, improperly stored and leaking into our atmosphere. There are concerns about security as regards not only the elements needed to generate nuclear power, but the obvious security dangers that we face in the modern world. We must all take very seriously the danger of somebody trying to blow up an installation. There is the question of whether nuclear power will be able to do what it needs to do in the time scale that is required for the energy capacity that we need in the next 10 or 20 years.

The environmental lobby is split on nuclear power. Some believe that it is a godsend for the environment and others think that it is a curse, which we should never touch.
17 Jan 2006 : Column 780

However, my main point tonight is concern about the Liberal Democrats' attitude to the issue. It is a little like Noddy and Big Ears. When Noddy built his house, he said, "Let's put the roof on first so that, when it rains, we don't get wet." The Liberal Democrats have got matters upside down. It is irresponsible to begin a largely cross-party review on the most serious issue that will affect this   country for the next 50 years by reaching the conclusions at the start. A prejudicial approach and stance to such a serious issue is deeply irresponsible.

Mr. Ellwood : It is even more confusing given that last week the Liberal Democrats endorsed research into the use of nuclear energy, yet today they rule it out completely.

Mr. Duncan: That is a minor sin compared with some others, with which I should like to enlighten the House.

The speech of the hon. Member for Lewes was backward looking—it was atavistic. It referred only to mountains of waste and the problems of historic power generation. It tackled none of the arguments that the nuclear industry espouses for future generation.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We are dealing with that.

Mr. Duncan: If that is the case, why do not the Liberal Democrats engage in the review? Those of us who watch the Liberal Democrats are entitled to examine the genuine nature—as they would have it—of their approach to the issue. The party is riven, even on its Front Bench.

Norman Baker: Riven?

Mr. Duncan: Yes, riven. Split, if the hon. Gentleman would like a simpler word.

Colin Challen : It is truly depressing to witness the breakdown in the cross-party consensus that was launched last year on climate change, which must affect energy policy. However, is the hon. Gentleman trying to have his cake and eat it? The Conservative party's review will report a year after the Government's. I   wonder whether that will give the new Conservative party enough time to shift its stance to whatever public opinion says it should be.

Mr. Duncan: As the hon. Gentleman can see, I do not eat much cake.

Let us consider the opinions of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). In a recent interview in the Sunday Herald, he stated:

He added that nuclear could be the "least worst option" for guaranteeing security of supply. He went on:

Indeed, we do. We all seek honest information.
17 Jan 2006 : Column 781

However, it gets worse for the Liberal Democrats. Their—as he terms himself—"shadow Chancellor", the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), wrote a good article in The Times on 29 December. It states:

That is our view. He continued:

One must cast doubt on whether the hon. Member for Lewes is yet fully potty trained.

The motion represents a prejudicial approach to a serious review and the hon. Member for Lewes, who is not the Trade and Industry spokesman for his party, is at variance with his Exchequer spokesman, his Trade and Industry spokesman and the Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. We are witnessing the lot of the Liberal Democrat through the ages: impotence without responsibility.

If the hon. Member for Lewes is so certain that the nuclear option should not be entertained, he was duty bound to tell the House, with the same certainty, how his party would fill the ensuing generation gap.

Next Section IndexHome Page