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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): My name has been called in aid a couple of times this evening, notably by the Conservative spokesman, who rather mischievously tried to generate a split that does not exist. I entirely agree with what my party's spokesman said in his introductory remarks. He made an extremely forceful statement of what he and I believe. It is our common position.
The question we need to address is not why we need a reviewbecause, of course, evidence constantly needs to be reviewedbut why we need a comprehensive review of a review. The Minister for Energy attempted to address that question and advanced a couple of argumentsdeclining production in the North sea and increased imports of gasas to why circumstances had changed since 2003 when the excellent report appeared. I am sure that he is aware that both those trends were discussed at considerable length in the 2003 report, so I remain puzzled about why it is regarded as an unsatisfactory basis for discussion and debate.
The report's introduction was by the Prime Minister, who made it clear that the review was not just for three years but until 2050. It mobilised all the resources of the Government, from the dispassionate position of the Cabinet Office. It was in no sense an anti-nuclear document; it argued for keeping the nuclear option open and investing in international collaborative research. It was extremely open-minded. I have been re-reading it to try to understand why the Government are so uncomfortable with it and why they want to take a fresh look at the situation.
Two passages of the report are particularly devastating. In an overall attempt to make a balanced assessment of nuclear power, it refers to the main focus of public concern about nuclear power and what it describes as the
which, as my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), clearly and forcefully set out, is still unsolved. The report is reasonably open-minded about the underlying economics. It states:
If a private company is willing, considering the current economics of the world energy market, to put its shareholders' funds into initiating a project, which of course meets the regulatory, safety and waste disposal requirements and the decommissioning costs, I do not think that anybody on the Liberal Democrat Benches would quarrel with that judgment, although there may be somebody who has a fundamentalist objection. However, the 2003 energy review argued that there was no justification, in any circumstances, for the Government to use public money or public guarantees to underwrite such a business decision.
There is, of course, an argument for protecting new industries in certain circumstances. That is why we have the renewable energies obligation; new technologies need a breathing space and the cross-subsidy that they receive. Nuclear power is in a quite different category and does not justify Government support. That is the point made by the 2003 review and it is that conclusion that the Government now find so uncomfortable.
To understand whether there is any intellectual basis for that view, rather than merely political pressure, I turn to the two points made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), who was genuinely trying to address the problem. He says that two things have changed. First, we have had a price shock in both gas and oil. Does that change the picture? Secondly, there are new issues that relate to the security of supply. Let us address each of them briefly.
There has been a price shock, which was not anticipated or described in detail. What is the logic of that? What will happen? Anyone who spent years in the energy industry, as I did, trying to anticipate the prices of oil and gas, knows that they cannot be predicted. An awful lot of people have lost a lot of moneyperhaps the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) is one of themtrying to predict those prices by extrapolation and been terribly wrong.
The logic of the position is that if we are indeed heading for a period of much higher oil and gas priceswe may be for all I know, but I think it unlikelythose entrepreneurs who want to invest in nuclear power now have an added reason for investing their shareholders' funds in that way and in taking the risks involved. However, it is more likely that higher prices will encourage more investment in exploration, which is happening already in the North sea, and the pressure on conservation will increasea trend that is taking place already. The prices will therefore subside in a few years. I do not know that they will subside, but it seems logical that they could do so. If that were to happen, it would be doubly expensive for the Government to commit themselves now to guarantees and subsidies. Either way, the experience of having had a brief oil shock in no way changes the logic of the 2003 review.
The other point made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West related to the security of supply. Of course, we must be prudent. There are genuine political issues to addressthey are not just ones of nasty economics and costs. He made the point that Russia and Ukraine have had a dispute about the pipeline through Ukraine. Despite the fact that the Soviet Union never disrupted supplies, those two countries have been arguing about price and behaving in a threatening and rather self-defeating way. Although there was possibly only one day on which supplies were
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disrupted before those countries came to their senses, that was a worrying episode none the less, and people would be foolish to disregard it.
The conclusion that we must reachit is the one that the report drewis that we must have diversity of natural gas supplies, so that we are not exposed to disruption. If my memory serves me correctly, there are two major pipeline systems through eastern Europe and two major pipeline systems through the Mediterranean. In a couple of years or so, when the Isle of Grain project is completed, the diversity of supply will increase substantially with liquefied natural gas. Britain will then have a built-in diversity of supply, as the energy review acknowledged three years ago.
Neither of those considerations therefore changes the fundamentals of the argument. That leads me to question why we must have another review of a review, when the case is very well made. Liberal Democrat Members are not being obstructive or closing our minds. The case has been well made by the Government in their review. There is no reason whatever to reopen the fundamentals of that debate.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Let the record show that the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), while talking about my constituency both misleadingly and with impunity, refused to take interventions. That both reflects shamefully on them and embarrasses the Liberal Democrat party.
The parameters of any debate about nuclear power must acknowledge the environmental benefits and the benefits of supply security that nuclear power brings. The debate must not be sidetracked down the outdated and discredited road of developing ways simply to stop nuclear power at all costs. Such a position is no longer credible, and in my view, it never has been.
Given the pressing issues of security of supply, global warming and sustained economic growth, we must press ahead with both a political and a national energy consensus. Such a consensus is readily and quickly achievable and must contain significant renewable generation, coal and gas generation and, inescapably, continued future nuclear generation of at least 22 per cent., which nuclear power currently provides.
I for one did not enter politics to take easy decisions. More often than not, the right decisions require leadership, nerve and vision. It would be easy to denounce the British nuclear industry. It would be easy to listen only to the wilfully misinformed anti-nuclear careerists who have made significant financial sums from telling lies and half-truths about the industry for the best part of three decades. It would be easy to swallow the nonsense that is talked about the industry, but producing energy policy on the basis of wilful ignorance and shameless populism would be tantamount to perpetrating a fraud on the British people.
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The myth that this countryor the world, for that mattercan do without nuclear energy has been peddled for too long. In part, I understand the reasons for that: it is hard to drop a prejudice, no matter how illogical it is. However, scientific fact and political opinion, no matter how keenly felt, are separate entities. The fact of the matter is that the political environment that gave rise to the anti-nuclear school of thought has changed as more detailed scientific evidence about the pace and scale of climate change has emerged.
The greenhouse effect is now widely accepted as scientific fact. No serious politician who acknowledges it can afford to disregard the contribution of nuclear generation as part of the urgent measures that are required to combat climate change. To do so would be self-indulgent, if not delusional.
I believe the Government's chief scientist when he says that global warming is a more serious threat than terrorism. I believe James Lovelock when he says that climate change is the greatest danger that human civilisation has faced so far. I also agreed with him when he wrote last year:
"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources."
Probably the most disingenuous argument used against civil nuclear power is that of problems relating to the disposal of radioactive waste. There are no technical or scientific barriers to the safe disposal of radioactive waste, only political ones. We know precisely what to do with the waste. There are a finite number of sensible options, and I hope that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management will make recommendations on the way forward soon.
Energy policy is perhaps the most important political issue facing Britain as a nation today. As such, we urgently need to establish a national consensus that is based on the national interest. As Senator John Kerry said during his bid for the presidency of the United States, American dependency on outside energy sources presented
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