|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Barry Gardiner): This is the first time in almost six years that an Opposition motion has been tabled by the Liberal party without the name of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) appearing above it on the Order Paper. I regret that it does not appear there, and so should the Liberal Democrats. Whatever disagreements we might have had with the positions adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, at least under his leadership his party tried to engage with the facts before reaching its conclusions. Today, however, his erstwhile deputy and would-be successor has reversed that process. Despite the fact that the country is in the midst of an energy review, and the consultation document is about to be launched, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) has instructed his troops not to listen to any distracting facts that the public or the energy industry might bring forward. Like Jason, he has stuffed wool into his Argonauts' ears so that they cannot hear the siren voicesthe voices of fact, investigation and open-minded debate.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Before the Minister gets entirely bound up in Greek mythology, will he tell us how he describes the Members on his own side of the House who oppose nuclear energy?
Barry Gardiner: The distinction is quite simple. The Government are open to listening to the arguments; the right hon. and learned Gentleman has cut it off and said that he will not listen to the arguments put forward in the energy review.
There is, however, one honourable exception on the Liberal Democrat Benches: the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has apparently refused to sign up to the gagging order. In recent interviews in the Sunday Herald, The Scotsman and just about every other Scottish journal, he has dismissed the emotional arguments of his colleagues, saying that the new nuclear reactors could be "the least
17 Jan 2006 : Column 805
worst option" for maintaining security of supply and reducing carbon emissions. He has also very sensibly insisted:
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, his party's Scotland spokesperson, and with his fine Scots quality of plain speaking, he has counselled, "We need honest information". As Nicol Stephen might say: "Oh no, John; no, John, no!"
I, too, am a believer in honest information, and as we approach the difficult issues that surround energy policy, it is important that we start with a clear and honest appraisal of our position. It is clear that our market-based energy policy has delivered significant benefits to the United Kingdom. The UK is on track to meet the Kyoto target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Although we are experiencing some price hikes in the gas market this winter, UK energy markets remain among the most competitive in the EU, on both industrial and domestic electricity and gas prices. The number of households in fuel poverty in the UK has fallen by more than 4.5 million since 1996, and more than 1 million vulnerable households have been assisted by the Warm Front scheme. The renewables obligation and the climate change levy exemption will result in support to renewables of £1 billion a year by 2010. As a result of the renewables obligation, last year saw the largest amount of renewable generation ever installed in the UK.
We have seen many changes to the energy landscape since the 2003 energy White Paper. Evidence on the adverse impact of climate change has continued to grow, and world prices for fossil fuels have increased by more than 50 per cent. over the past three years. Projected prices are now much higher than many people predicted at the time of the 2003 White Paper. North sea gas production has declined more rapidly than many predicted, so the UK has become a net importer of gas sooner than anticipated. We need to consider the risks of relying on imported gas when there is increasing sensitivity in relation to global energy issues.
The goals set out in the 2003 energy White Paper continue to provide the right framework for our energy policy, but as was stated and envisaged in that White Paper, we are keeping our detailed policy under review and are prepared to amend it in the light of experience.
The energy review will examine some extremely complex issues. It will not produce simple yes or no answers, as the Liberal Democrats have. There will be no single solution and no single silver bullet, which is why the review will look right across the energy landscape. On renewables, for example, at present, predominantly wind turbines will play a key role as the renewables obligation delivers increasing new generation capacity. But renewables cannot provide the whole answer, either on generation capacity issues or on our carbon goals.
Other renewables may emerge over time as significant players, such as microgeneration, wave and tidal, but currently only wind can provide meaningful low-carbon capacity at a cost comparable to that of existing non-renewable technologies such as gas, coal and nuclear.
17 Jan 2006 : Column 806
My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) argued passionately and with great knowledge, estimating that the UK can raise its renewables capacity to European levels, as the Liberal Democrats also propose. I trust, however, that he agrees that it will be difficult to do so if Liberal Members, and Liberal parties up and down the country, continue to oppose wind farms, as they have in North Devon at Fullabrook down; in Ross, Skye and Easter Ross on the Isle of Skye; in Porthcawl at Scarweather sands; in Penrith in Cumbria at Whinash wind farm; and, as their politicians did, at Totnes in south Devon, as well as at Durham and Denshaw in Lancashire.
We are also considering other means to cut our carbon emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. Our carbon abatement strategy includes £25 million of capital grants that, among other options, could be used to support a demonstration of capture-ready technology, not least through clean coal technology. That has been increased to £35 million as a result of the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement of 5 December.
While this is not a nuclear review, it would be wrong for the Government to dismiss that subject out of hand, without first considering the evidence. Nuclear might provide some answers, but there are major factors to be considered first, such as, what would be the implications for our carbon reduction targets of nuclear's share of the energy mix falling? What do the economics of nuclear look like, given the sharp rise in oil and gas prices? Of course, we will also need to consider the issue of waste management. That has been mentioned this evening.
I should stress, however, that the cost of our historic nuclear legacy is not solely a function of nuclear power generation; far from it. It represents the lifetime costsabout £56 billion, which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has estimated is necessary to clean up all its sites. That legacy is in part made up of experimental facilities created 50 to 60 years ago and without any consideration being given to future decommissioning and clear-up. It is important to note that some 80 per cent. of the costs relate to pioneering and experimental sites, including Sellafield and Dounreay. Those costs were never predicated on generating capacity. The costs of decommissioning modern nuclear reactors would be built in from day one, which was not the case with the facilities of earlier generations.
In conclusion, I want to make it clear that the dividing line in this debate between those on the Liberal Democrat Benches and those on the Government side is not that they are against nuclear and we are for it. It is that we go into an open and transparent public energy review with an open mind, willing to listen to all the arguments. The Liberal Democrats, in contrast, do not want to engage in that debate because their mind is closed.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|